At least two people have been killed and 26 injured after a vehicle ploughed into pedestrians in the German city of Münster, with police confirming that the driver of the vehicle has also killed himself.
Unconfirmed reports are suggesting that the suspect is a 48-year-old German with a history of mental issues. It is believed that police are currently searching his apartment.
The daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung, public broadcaster ZDF and news agency DPA said the assailant was “psychologically disturbed” with no known links to “terrorism”.
Police spokesman Andreas Bode told reporters at the scene that six of those injured were in a serious condition and confirmed that the driver was dead.
“The suspect killed himself in the vehicle. The identity of the suspect is not yet clear,” he said.
However, he said it was too early to describe the incident as an attack, although witnesses have indicated that additional suspects could have potentially fled from the vehicle.
There’s a mass police operation ongoing in the city, with helicopters seen overhead and investigators searching the crime scene. Firefighters are tending to the injured and various police and firefighting vehicles are also at the scene, which is now sealed off to the public as police investigate a potentially suspicious object in the vehicle.
The van ploughed into people sitting outside on a warm afternoon in Münster, crashing into tables outside of the Grosser Kiepenkerl restaurant in the historic centre of the city. The restaurant is a popular tourist attraction in the picturesque city of 300,000 residents.
Police also urged people to refrain from spreading “speculation” about the incident.
Münster Mayor Markus Lewe said the reason for the crash is still unclear.
Lino Baldi, who owns an Italian restaurant in Muenster near the scene of the crash, told Sky TG24 that the city center was packed due to a Saturday market and summer-like temperatures.
The vehicle struck at 3.27pm as tourists and students basked in the sunshine.
A witness told Germany’s NTV: “There was a bang and then screaming. The police arrived and got everyone out of here. There were a lot of people screaming. I’m angry, it’s cowardly to do something like this.”
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said: “This was a serious act of violence. My deep sympathy goes to all those who have lost a loved one.”
Münster is a city of around 300,000 people in North Rhine-Westphalia, to the west of Germany near the border with the Netherlands. Around a fifth of the population are students, and there are four universities within the city. It is also known as the bicycle capital of Germany.
A spokeswoman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel said “our thoughts are with the victims and their families” who were killed and injured in the incident.
Spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer on Twitter called the crash Saturday “terrible news.”
Katarina Barley, the German justice minister, added: “We must do everything to clarify the background of the incident.”
Markus Lewe, the city’s mayor, said the motive was unclear.
He added: “All of Münster is mourning this horrible incident. Our sympathy is with the relatives of those who were killed. We wish the injured a quick recovery. At this point we don’t know the background to the incident.”
While details on this incident remain scarce, it has quickly drawn global attention, including a tweet from US President Donald Trump’s son, Donald Trump Junior, who said “this doesn’t sound like a simple accident to me” without clarifying further.
While the crash has yet to be officially confirmed as an attack, the head of a regional police union, Erich Rettinghouse, told local media: “There has been a continuous, latent danger of an attack in the whole of Germany. Now it has sadly hit North-Rhine Westphalia, where we have so far been fortunate enough to be able to foil planned attacks and prevent assassinations.”
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office confirmed that they are in touch with local authorities in Germany and “stand ready to assist any British nationals who may be affected.”
The incident happened on the one-year anniversary of a truck attack in Stockholm that killed five people and seriously injured 14 others.
Germany has experienced a number of terror attacks in recent years, including through the deadly use of vehicles.
In December 19, 2016, Tunisian national Anis Amri, 24, hijacked a truck and slammed it into a crowd of people at a Christmas market in Berlin, killing 12 people and injuring 48.
Timeline of vehicle rampage attacks in Europe
Amri was shot dead by Italian police in Milan four days later after travelling through several European countries. The Islamic State (IS) group claimed responsibility for that attack.
IS also claimed several similar attacks in Europe, including a rampage along Barcelona’s Las Ramblas boulevard in August 2017 that killed 14 and left more than 100 injured.
The deadliest such incident in recent years was in the French resort city of Nice in 2016, where a man rammed a truck into a crowd on France’s national July 14 holiday, killing 86 people.
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