No Islamist link to German camper van attack

German police decline to comment on reports man had criminal record and links to far-right groups

The site where, on Saturday, a man drove into a group of people sitting outside a restaurant in the old city centre of Münster. The placard reads “Why?”. Photograph: Leon Kuegeler/Reuters

The site where, on Saturday, a man drove into a group of people sitting outside a restaurant in the old city centre of Münster. The placard reads “Why?”. Photograph: Leon Kuegeler/Reuters

 

German police see no Islamist link or political motive to Saturday’s camper van attack in the western city of Münster that left three dead and 20 seriously injured.

Investigators have identified the driver of the vehicle as a 48-year-old local man with a reported history of mental illness who acted alone.

Federal interior minister Horst Seehofer visited the crash site on Sunday and called for German cities to step up work to install crash-proof bollards in their pedestrian zones.

“This cowardly and brutal crime has shocked us all very much,” said Mr Seehofer.

Just before 3.30pm on Saturday the driver crashed a silver VW camper van into a crowd sitting outside a popular bar in Münster’s historic old town.

A 51-year-old woman and 65-year-old man died at the scene, then the driver shot himself in the van. At least six injured people remain in a life-threatening condition.

A subsequent search of the vehicle revealed a gas pistol, fireworks and wires, prompting police to seal off the area until early on Sunday morning.

At the driver’s apartment police carried out two controlled explosions around 8pm on Saturday evening to gain access. Inside they found dummy AK47 machine guns and further fireworks. They declined to comment on media reports that the man had a criminal record and had links to far-right groups.

Possible motive

“To date there are no clues to hand as to a possible motive,” said a police spokesman. “The investigation is proceeding intensely in all directions.”

Münster police chief Hajo Kuhlisch said there were “no clues of a political background”. Investigators are working on the assumption “that the motive and causes lay in the perpetrator himself”.

Local media reported the man was known to authorities and had recently attempted suicide in Münster, a prosperous university town of 300,000 in Germany’s Westphalia region.

On Sunday morning the crash scene – a cobbled square before the Kiepenkerl pub – carried the traces of the first sunny spring afternoon: empty ice cream bowls and half-finished glasses of coke, abandoned by patrons fleeing the oncoming van.

The Kiepenkerl pub is named after the adjacent statue of a travelling salesman and is a popular local landmark. A mood of shock prevailed in Münster that such an attack could happen in what is a peaceful town with a low crime rate.

‘Heard the screams’

Melanie (27), a student, watched the van turn near her and head towards the Kiepenkerl.

“We just stood and watched it drive into the people, we heard the screams,” she said. “ I don’t even think it was going that fast, many could jump up in time and save themselves.”

Maik Hörste, a local man, told broadcaster WDR it was “like an action film, with people pulling each other away”.

Feelings were still running high on Sunday morning, divided between praise for the rapid police response and fury at the violent act.

“I’m just angry,” said Michael, a local business owner. “It’s cowardly to do something like this.”