German investigators seek motive in fatal knife attack

WUERZBURG, Germany (AP) — Investigators were looking Saturday for a motive behind an attack in the German city of Wuerzburg in which a man armed with a long knife killed three people and wounded at least five others, while authorities praised passers-by who tried to stop the assailant.

Police said two of those hospitalized remained in life-threatening condition Saturday.

The suspect, a 24-year-old Somali, was stopped with a shot to the leg by police and arrested after the Friday afternoon attack in the southern city’s downtown area. Police said his life was not in danger and he was being in a hospital.

The man had lived in Wuerzburg since 2015, most recently in a shelter for the homeless. He apparently did not know the victims.

Michael Dauber, whose shop is near the scene of the attack, said he saw people running away in panic.

“It was unclear for a long time what was happening, then they all started screaming that somebody is stabbing people,” Dauber said. “It was totally crazy.”

Videos posted on social media showed people surrounding the attacker and trying to hold him at bay with chairs and sticks.

“I was particularly impressed by the dedication of many people who tried to stop the perpetrator and tried to keep him in check,” Bavarian governor Markus Soeder said. “That was really impressive dedication, and my thanks for that.”

“Now the circumstances have to be cleared up, the motives,” he said in a statement to reporters in Nuremberg.

Bavaria’s top security official, Joachim Herrmann, said the suspect had been known to police and had been admitted to a psychiatric unit a few days earlier.

He told news agency dpa late Friday that he couldn’t rule out an Islamic extremist motive because one witness had reported hearing the suspect shout “Allahu akbar,” Arabic for “God is great.” However, federal prosecutors — who in Germany deal with terrorism and national security cases — hadn’t taken over the case by Saturday.

People laid flowers and candles at the scene of the attack.

“All of Bavaria is in mourning today,” said Soeder, who added that he would order flags flown at half-staff in the state.

Wuerzburg police’s use of a shot to the leg to stop the assailant is typical for Germany. Bavaria’s rules on use of police weapons state that firearms should only be used to make perpetrators unable to attack or flee, and that a shot which is near-certain to kill is only permitted if it is the only way to prevent danger to the life of others.

The rules call for officers to aim at the legs where possible.


Geir Moulson reported from Berlin.

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