Police probe driver’s motives after deadly Heidelberg car attack

Investigators are probing the motives of a 35-year-old German student who rammed his car into a group of pedestrians, killing one person and injuring two others, officials said Sunday, ruling out terrorism.

Police probe driver's motives after deadly Heidelberg car attack
Flowers at the crash site. Photo: DPA

The suspect is being formally held on suspicion of murder and attempted murder over Saturday's incident in the picturesque southwestern city of Heidelberg, local police and prosecutors said in a statement.

The accused, who was shot and wounded by police after fleeing the scene on foot while wielding a knife, is in hospital recovering from surgery.

A 73-year-old German man died from his injuries hours after being hit by the car.

A 32-year-old Austrian and a 29-year-old Bosnian woman, both Heidelberg residents, were lightly hurt while a fourth person was able to jump out of the way, according to the statement.

The driver was questioned by investigators for the first time Sunday after waking up from surgery but did not comment on the accusations against him, the officials said.

“His motive remains unknown,” they said, adding that it had yet to be determined if the suspect had acted with diminished criminal responsibility.

Media reports have suggested the accused may suffer from psychiatric problems, but the authorities have so far not commented directly on those claims.

“At this point in the investigation there are no indications of a terrorist or extremist background to the case,” the officials said.

A video taken by a bystander in the immediate aftermath of the car attack shows a number of armed police officers apparently confronting the suspect on the street, before a shot can be heard.

According to the statement, a policeman fired his gun after the suspect ignored repeated calls to put down the knife and began charging at the officers who had unsuccessfully tried to stop him with pepper spray.

The suspect, who has not been named, did not have a police record prior to the incident.

According to the authorities, he comes from the Heidelberg area and hired the car used in the attack from a rental agency about two weeks ago.


Three teenagers detained in Germany over ‘Islamist attack’ plot

Police have detained two teenage girls and a boy in western Germany on suspicions they were planning an Islamist attack, prosecutors said Friday.

Three teenagers detained in Germany over 'Islamist attack' plot

The trio, aged from 15 to 16, are “strongly suspected of planning an Islamist-motivated terror attack and of having committed to carrying it out”, prosecutors said in a statement.

All three had also “committed to carrying out a crime — murder and manslaughter”, Düsseldorf prosecutors added.

Investigators did not provide further details on the alleged plot, saying the inquiry was still underway.

But Germany’s biggest-selling daily Bild reported that the youths were allegedly planning to carry out Molotov cocktail and knife attacks in the name of the Islamic State group.

Their targets are believed to be Christians and police officers, according to the report, which said the suspects were also weighing whether to obtain firearms.

READ ALSO: How does Germany warn people about the threat of terrorist attacks?

Germany has been on high alert for Islamist attacks since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war in October, with the country’s domestic intelligence chief warning that the risk of such assaults is “real and higher than it has been for a long time”.

The country is also particularly nervous about security breaches as it prepares to host the European football championships from mid-June to mid-July.

‘Danger remains acute’

Police had already foiled a suspected plot earlier this year.

Investigators in January arrested three people over an alleged plan targeting the cathedral in Cologne on New Year’s Eve.

Bild reported that the suspects were Tajiks acting for Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K), the same group believed to have been behind March’s deadly massacre in a Moscow concert hall.

“The danger from Islamist terrorism remains acute,” Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said at the time, describing the Khorasan offshoot as “currently the biggest Islamist threat in Germany”.

Islamist extremists have carried out several attacks in Germany in recent years, the deadliest being a truck rampage at a Berlin Christmas market in December 2016 that killed 12 people.

More recently, two Afghans linked to IS were arrested in Germany in March on suspicion of planning an attack around Sweden’s parliament in retaliation for Koran burnings.

In October, German prosecutors also charged two Syrian brothers for planning an attack inspired by IS on a church in Sweden.

READ ALSO: Two men held in Germany over Swedish parliament terror plot

In December 2022, a Syrian-born Islamist was jailed for 14 years for a knife attack on a train in Bavaria in which four people were injured.

The number of people considered Islamist extremists in Germany fell from 28,290 in 2021 to 27,480 in 2022, according to a report from the BfV federal domestic intelligence agency.

However, in presenting the report, Faeser said Islamist extremism “remains dangerous”.

Germany became a target for jihadist groups during its involvement in the coalition fighting IS in Iraq and Syria, and its deployment in Afghanistan.