DUESSELDORF (AFP) – German police said on Friday (March 10) an axe-wielding attacker who went on the rampage wounding nine at a railway station was mentally ill and may have hoped police would shoot him dead.
The 36-year-old Kosovan national had been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic with a history of high anxiety and self-harm, police said, ruling out a terrorist motive.
Instead, they suggested he might have carried out the attack at the main railway station in Duesseldorf as an attempt to end his own life.
The suspect was caught after jumping off a bridge and is currently in hospital with fractures and other injuries.
News site Spiegel Online identified him as Fatmir H., and police said he had come to Germany in 2009 and had received residency rights “for humanitarian reasons”.
The man sparked panic when he got off a commuter train in the western city late on Thursday and began swinging an axe at passengers, hitting his first victim from behind.
Police commandos with automatic weapons, body armour and balaclavas rushed to the station, backed by police helicopters, amid fears it was a terrorist attack and initial false reports of multiple attackers.
With screams echoing around the station concourse and the wounded bleeding on the ground, police chased the man along railway tracks until he leapt off a 4m-high bridge.
Lying on the ground, the injured man told the first officers on the scene that “he had been ready to be shot dead by police,” said local crime squad chief Dietmar Kneip.
“We call that ‘suicide by cop’,” he told a press conference. “But luckily we were able to arrest him.”
Kneip said the suspect’s brother had worried when he bought an axe about a week earlier.
And when he realised his brother had left their home in Wuppertal, 30km west of Duesseldorf, he phoned the police to report him missing.
But the call could not prevent the attack shortly before 9pm.
Among the victims were a 13-year-old girl who sustained bad injuries to her upper arm, two female Italian tourists and another woman, as well as five male commuters, all aged between 30 and 50.
“We were on the platform waiting for the train,” an unnamed witness told Bild daily. “The train arrived and suddenly someone with an axe came out and started attacking people.
“There was blood everywhere.”
The man then tried to re-enter the carriage but the train driver locked the doors, protecting the terrified passengers inside who looked on as he beat the windows with his fists, police said.
Germany has been on edge after a string of attacks in recent months – several claimed by Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants, including a truck attack on a Berlin Christmas market in December which left 12 people dead.
The security services say there are about 10,000 radical Islamists in the country, of whom 1,600 are suspected of having links to militant groups.
But there have also been several attacks where the assailants have turned out to be psychologically unstable.
Last July, a mentally disturbed 17-year-old migrant wielding an axe and a knife went on a rampage on a train in southern Germany, seriously injuring four people.
And last month, a 35-year-old German national, who was reportedly suffering from psychiatric problems, drove his car into a group of pedestrians in the southwestern city of Heidelberg, killing one and injuring two