Two dead after van drives into crowd in Germany

German man drove into beer garden in western city of Münster before taking his own life

A policeman stands next to a police car behind warning tape in the inner city of Muenster. Photograph: Sascha Steinbach/EPA

A policeman stands next to a police car behind warning tape in the inner city of Muenster. Photograph: Sascha Steinbach/EPA

 

Two people have been killed and at least 20 injured, six seriously, after a van crashed into a crowd of pedestrians in the western German university city of Münster.

Just before 3.30pm on Saturday, the van raced down the Spiekerhof, a pedestrianised cobbled street in the old town, and crushed two staff members serving customers outside a popular pub.

The 48 year-old perpetrator, identified locally as Jens R., was a German national with a reported history of psychological problems. He shot himself in the van outside the Kiepenkerl pub, named after a landmark statue on the square.

Policemen stand at a barricade to the inner city of Muenster on Saturday where a man drove into a crowd and then killed himself. Photograph: EPA
Policemen stand at a barricade to the inner city of Muenster on Saturday where a man drove into a crowd and then killed himself. Photograph: EPA

Passers-by heard a dull thud as the van hit the crowd, scattering and crushing wooden furniture.

“Münster is one of the most peaceful cities I know, it’s unbelievable for something like this to happen here,” said Martin Wiech from Dortmunt who studied in the city.

State interior minister Herbert Reul said there were “no indications of an Islamist link” to the attack.

Police were quick to the scene as they had been accompanying a protest march nearby. They asked locals and visitors to leave the area and not post any information or images from the scene of the attack.

People stay in front of a restaurant in Muenster after a vehicle crashed into thecrowd. Photograph: Stephan R/dpa via AP
People stay in front of a restaurant in Muenster after a vehicle crashed into thecrowd. Photograph: Stephan R/dpa via AP

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported in its online edition that the perpetrator lived some 2 km (1.2 miles) from the crime scene.

Broadcaster ZDF said police were searching his apartment and that he had contact with far-right extremists, but there was no evidence thus far that he was a far-right extremist himself.

The Sueddeutsche Zeitung said the man had psychological problems. The interior ministry in North Rhine-Westphalia would neither confirm nor deny the report.

After sealing off the old town, police armed with machine guns patrolled the empty streets of Münster’s old town, usually abuzz with revellers on a Saturday night.

Ambulancesin downtown Muenster on Saturday. Photograph: EPA
Ambulancesin downtown Muenster on Saturday. Photograph: EPA

Special forces raided what is believed to be the driver’s apartment in a high rise block and carried out a controlled explosion at around 8pm local time.

Other suspects

Police spokesman Andreas Bode said investigators were looking at the possibility that other suspects fled the scene, though they had no evidence that this was the case, he added.

Bild newspaper said police were searching for two possible additional suspects after witnesses said they had seen two people jump out of the van. Jens R. had no police record, the newspaper said.

“The crime scene investigators are checking out the crime scene, trying to identify, investigate and secure traces. That is our current task,” Mr Bode said.

A police spokeswoman said: “The danger is over.”

Martin Wiech, who said he had studied in Muenster, told Der Spiegel he had driven to Münster to go shopping and was now unable to return to his car.

“Unbelievable that something like this could happen in Münster . It is one of the most peaceful cities I know,” he said.

‘Terrible event’

The mayor of Münster, a prosperous city of 312,000 people 150km north of Cologne, said all were in mourning at “this terrible event”.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a statement she was “deeply shaken”.

“Everything possible is now being done to clarify the facts and to support the victims and their relatives,” she added.

Firefighters stand in downtown Muenster. Photograph: EPA
Firefighters stand in downtown Muenster. Photograph: EPA

French president Emmanuel Macron tweeted: “All my thoughts are with the victims of the attack in Muenster. France shares in Germany’s suffering.”

The attack carries unhappy similarities to the Berlin Christmas market attack in December 2016 that killed 12 and injured 56.

Münster is the capital of the historic Westphalia region and home to the historic hall where the Peace of Westphalia was agreed in 1648, a key moment in ending the 30 Years’ War.

Much of the historic city was destroyed in the second World War and rebuilt in the 1950s.–Additional reporting Reuters