Panic and terror in Munich shooting rampage

Special force police officers stand in front of a car near the Olympia shopping mall, following a shooting rampage at the mall in Munich, Germany on July 23.
Special force police officers stand in front of a car near the Olympia shopping mall, following a shooting rampage at the mall in Munich, Germany on July 23. PHOTO: REUTERS

MUNICH (AFP) - First came the crack of gunfire, then the panicked screams and the wail of sirens as an armed attacker launched a killing spree in the German city of Munich on Friday (July 22).

Residents were going about their shopping at the busy Olympia mall, some eating at a McDonald's restaurant, when the horror began.

Panicked shoppers fled the building as armed anti-terror police flooded the streets in search of what was initially thought to be a group of three assailants.

Authorities later discovered the body of the attacker - an 18-year-old German-Iranian believed to have acted alone - dead by his own hand just one kilometre (0.6 mile) from the mall.

Nine victims have been confirmed dead, and nearly two dozen others were injured in the burst of violence.

While the manhunt was still under way police had called on residents of Germany's third-largest city to stay indoors, throwing the economic hub into lockdown.

"Attention - avoid the neighbourhood around the OEZ (Olympia). Stay in your homes. Leave the street," a Munich police tweet said.

The Bavarian capital's main train station was evacuated and bus, metro and tram services were suspended.

Survivors of the rampage described terrifying scenes.

"We entered McDonald's to eat... then there was panic, and people ran out," one woman told Bavarian public television.

She said she heard three gunshots, "children were crying, people rushed to the exit in panic." A video posted on social media appeared to show a man dressed in black walking away from a McDonald's while firing repeatedly on a group of people, who screamed as they fled.

A man who said he worked at one of the shops in the mall, described how he came face-to-face with the shooter.

"I looked towards him, he fired on two people and I fled the building by climbing a wall.

"And then I saw bodies and injured people," he said.

According to one of his colleagues, the attacker was wearing military boots and carrying a backpack, he said.

The shopping centre, which opened in the 1970s and bills itself as Bavaria's biggest, was surrounded by armed police, while a helicopter buzzed overhead.

The mall is not far from the Olympic stadium which hosted the 1972 summer Games and the athletes' village, the site of the massacre of 11 Israeli athletes by the Palestinian Black September group.

In a neighbourhood located near the mall, schoolchildren and their parents were celebrating the end of the academic year when news of the shooting spree broke.

The families rushed home, on foot or by car.

Bars and cafes, normally bustling on a warm summer evening, quickly closed as German television broadcast footage of deserted streets.

In a gesture of solidarity, Munich residents posted messages online inviting those stuck in the city into their homes.

However as the night wore on, the public was no closer to knowing why the shooter opened fire.

"The motive or explanation for this crime is completely unclear," police chief Hubertus Andrae told reporters.