Driver in German van attack had mental problems

Police continue to investigate the scene on Sunday (April 8) where a man drove a van into a group of people sitting outside a restaurant in the old city centre of Muenster in western Germany on Saturday, killing two of them before shooting himself.
A man placing flowers yesterday at the scene in the inner city of Muenster, Germany, where a van had driven into people sitting outside a restaurant on Saturday.
A man placing flowers yesterday at the scene in the inner city of Muenster, Germany, where a van had driven into people sitting outside a restaurant on Saturday.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

MUENSTER (Germany) • The German authorities investigating a deadly van ramming attack focused yesterday on mental health problems of the driver, as the city of Muenster mourned for the two people killed on a sunny afternoon at an open-air restaurant.

"There are strong indications at the moment that this was a lone perpetrator and that there were no links to the terror scene," federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer told reporters at the site of Saturday's attacks, where local people laid flowers in memory of the victims.

Far-right opponents of Chancellor Angela Merkel's refugee policy had suggested in the immediate aftermath of the attack it might be an Islamist act of terror, while some media reported the killer had links to right-wing extremist organisations.

But there are "no indications of a political motive," said Mr Hajo Kuhlisch, chief of police in the western city where the attack took place. Rather, he added, "the motive and origins (of the crime) lie within the perpetrator," a 48-year-old German identified as Jens R. who shot himself dead after the crime.

A source close to the investigation told AFP there was a record of incidents related to the perpetrator's impaired mental health since 2015, and that he had talked of suicide in March. Broadcaster NTV reported that he had threatened family members with an axe in 2014 and 2015.

The two victims killed in Muenster were a 51-year-old woman and a 65-year-old man, both from northern Germany. Police said 20 were injured.

Chancellor Merkel said in a statement she was "deeply shaken".

The foreign ministry in the Netherlands said two of those hurt were Dutch, and one of them was in a critical condition.

In the van, police found the gun used by the driver to kill himself, a blank-firing pistol and some powerful fireworks.

A search of the man's Muenster apartment late on Saturday turned up more fireworks and a deactivated AK47 assault rifle.

The attack evoked memories of a December 2016 truck attack in Berlin that killed 12 people.

In that attack, a Tunisian whose request for asylum was turned down and who had links to Islamist militants hijacked a truck and ploughed into a crowded marketplace.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 09, 2018, with the headline 'Driver in German van attack had mental problems'. Print Edition | Subscribe