Saturday 22 September 2018

Van killer had history of run-ins with law: police

A man pauses to pay his respects as he brings flowers to the scene of the van attack outside the popular pub Grosser Kiepenkerl in Muenster Photo: AP
A man pauses to pay his respects as he brings flowers to the scene of the van attack outside the popular pub Grosser Kiepenkerl in Muenster Photo: AP

Kirsten Grieshaber

The 48-year-old German man who drove a van into a crowd in Muenster was well known to police, had a history of run-ins with the law and had talked of suicide to a neighbour last month.

The man, known only as Jens R according to German court rules, killed two people and injured 20 others on Saturday afternoon by crashing into those drinking outside a popular bar in the western German city's old town. He then shot himself to death inside the van.

Police believe he acted alone, but would not give any further details.

The picture painted by police showed the suspect as a Muenster resident who was apparently financially well off but was frequently at odds with authorities and in court often. Local media reported that he is an industrial designer who once threatened his father with an axe.

Muenster police president Hajo Kuhlisch said the man's four apartments - two in Muenster and two in Saxony - and several cars had been searched thoroughly.

Prosecutors said he had expressed suicidal plans by email to a neighbour. Police were told about the email and went to the man's Muenster home but he was not there. They then told local authorities at the man's other homes in Dresden and Pirna in eastern Germany about the note, but he could not be found there either.

Police and prosecutors said the suspect didn't mention any intention to harm other people in his email. The city's health services had also been in touch with the man, but authorities didn't say why. Germany has very strict privacy laws on medical issues.

Authorities still appeared stumped about the man's motive for the attack.

"We have no indications that there is a political background or that others were involved" in Saturday's deadly crash, prosecutor Elke Adomeit said. "But he was well known to the police."

She said the man had three previous court procedures in Muenster and two in nearby Arnsberg in 2015 and 2016. His run-ins with the law regarded threats, property damage, fraud, a hit-and-run and domestic conflicts with his family, but Ms Adomeit said that all charges were dismissed.

Authorities have identified the two victims killed by the van crash as a 51-year-old woman from Lueneburg county, 300km to the north-east, and a 65-year-old man from nearby Borken county. Their names have not been released.

Early yesterday, all three bodies were taken from the crash scene in front of the well-known Kiepenkerl pub. The silver-grey van that crashed into the crowd was hauled away hours later, after explosives experts had thoroughly checked it.

Inside the van, police found illegal firecrackers that were disguised as a fake bomb, a fake pistol and the real gun that the driver used to kill himself with.

Inside the apartment where the man was living, which was near the crash scene, police found more firecrackers and a "no-longer usable AK-47 machine gun". Police also found several gas bottles and canisters with gasoline and bio-ethanol but couldn't say why he stored them there.

Officials said some of the 20 injured were still in life-threatening condition yesterday.

Muenster is a popular tourist destination known for its medieval old town.

Irish Independent

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