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Motive for van attack in Münster unknown

April 8, 2018

Authorities are investigating why a 48-year-old man drove a van into a crowd in Münster, killing three, including himself, and injuring several others. The man is said to have had a history of mental illness.

Police stand at a street blocking access to the site where a van drove into a crowd of people seated outside a restaurant
Image: Getty Images/A. Koerner

On Sunday, prosecutors said they still did not know the motive behind a deadly incident in which a 48-year-old man drove his van into a crowd of people in the western German city of Münster on Saturday. Two people were killed and 20 injured before the man fatally shot himself inside the van. Some victims of the deliberate crash remain in critical condition, police sources said.

"As of now, we don't have any leads regarding a possible background for the deed," prosecutor Martin Botzenhardt wrote in a joint statement with police.

"The investigations are being carried out under high pressure in all possible directions," the statement said.

DW's Alistair Walsh, who has been reporting on the situation in the city, said police were still out in strength.

Authorities have meanwhile identified the two fatalities of Saturday's crash as a 51-year-old woman from Lüneburg and a 65-year-old man from the Borken area, near Münster. Their names have not been made public, as is customary in Germany.

Assailant was 'known'

Local media identified the perpetrator as an industrial designer living in Münster. The police, however, have not confirmed these details.

According to reports, the perpetrator had vaguely announced suicide plans in an email sent to friends a week ago. He was apparently also known to authorities for previous acts of violence, as well as drug violations, which the police could not confirm Sunday.

Police have confirmed that they found illegal firecrackers disguised as a fake bomb inside the van, as well as a fake pistol and the gun the assailant used to kill himself. Police also found a "no-longer-usable AK-47 machine gun" inside the man's apartment, which was reportedly nearby the crash site at the well-known Kiepenkerl pub in the historical city center of Münster.

Politicians react to attack

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer visited the crash scene Sunday afternoon alongside a number of other high-ranking officials. 

"This cowardly and brutal crime has left all of us feeling extremely shocked," Seehofer said, adding that he prayed for the fast recovery of the people injured.

Regardless of the government's efforts to protect citizens, Seehofer said, officials could never provide absolute security. He also praised the fast and professional response of local authorities and emergency services on the scene.

Armin Laschet, the state premier of North Rhine-Westphalia, where Münster is situated, was among those in attendance, as well as the city's mayor, Markus Lewe.

Laschet expressed his condolences, saying this was "a terrible, a sad day for the people of Münster" and for the entire country. He also praised the sense of solidarity expressed by locals after the assault.

Stephan Weil, the state premier of neighboring Lower Saxony, also offered his condolences, saying his thoughts were with the victims and their families. One of the two victims came from his state. 

Scapegoating by AfD

Beatrix von Storch, the parliamentary leader of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, implied in a tweet that a migrant had committed the attack. Later, she acknowledged that her tweet had been factually wrong but went on to say that the assailant was an "imitator of Islamic terror."

On Twitter Aiman Mazyek, the head of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, reacted to initial widespread rumors by accusing media and officials of double standards: "German assailants are psychologically disturbed," he wrote, while Muslim perpetrators are always described as "'Islamist' terrorists."

Münster is a popular university town with some 300,000 residents. It is also a well-known tourist destination, famous for its medieval old town, which was rebuilt after massive destruction during World War II.

DW correspondents Hans Brandt and Gerhard Elfers on the events in Münster

ss/jlw (AP, dpa)

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