Three people are dead and many more injured after a van rammed into a crowd of people outside a restaurant in Münster, Germany, on Saturday afternoon. The driver shot and killed himself while still in the vehicle after the crash. His suicide led police to treat the incident as a terrorist attack, but terrorism may not have been the driver’s motive.
It was subsequently reported that the driver was a 48-year-old German citizen with a history of mental illness. Germany’s interior minister announced that there is no evidence that the Münster man, who apparently worked as graphic designer, had any links to Islamist terrorism.
At least 20 people were hurt in the crash, including six with life-threatening injuries. Police had earlier reported that four people had died during the incident, but later corrected the total. (The three total fatalities include the driver.)
After police found a package with wires inside the vehicle, the area was evacuated while the bomb squad was brought in to investigate. The driver’s apartment has been searched for explosives.
Police also investigated witness reports that two additional perpetrators may have fled the vehicle after it crashed, but those reports do not appear to have been confirmed, leaving the driver as the sole suspect.
The incident happened just before 3:30 p.m. in a cobblestone plaza outside the Kiepenkerl bar in the city’s popular old town. Images of the aftermath showed that the van smashed through several cafe tables before coming to a stop. Eyewitnesses reported seeing the vehicle approach the site at high speed.
Saturday was the warmest day of the year so far in the city, so it is likely that the pedestrian area, which is filled with cafes and shops, was crowded.
Special forces personnel were deployed in Münster’s city center following the incident, and police have asked people to avoid the area and stay in their homes, and have repeatedly warned against spreading rumors.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel issued a statement on Saturday thanking the first responders and explaining that “everything conceivable is being done to investigate the crime and to support the victims and their relatives.”
Though the motive of this driver remains unclear, the Münster incident follows numerous terrorist attacks that have weaponized vehicles throughout Europe over the past three years. The last such ramming attack in Germany happened in December of 2016, when a Tunisian man who had pledged allegiance to ISIS drove a stolen tractor trailer into a crowded Christmas market in Berlin. 12 people were killed in that attack. Saturday’s incident also comes approximately one year after a vehicle ramming attack killed four people in Stockholm, Sweden. An additional 34 people were killed in vehicle attacks which struck London, Barcelona, and New York last year.
Below are images of the aftermath in Münster that have been shared on social media:
This is a breaking news story and this post has been continuously updated to reflect new information, and has been reframed to include the confusion over the driver’s motive.