German police knew van driver well; still not sure on motive

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MUENSTER, Germany (AP) - The 48-year-old German man who drove a van into a crowd in the western city of Muenster was well-known to police and had a history of run-ins with the law, German prosecutors said Sunday, adding that they believe he acted alone.

The man, whose name was not released, killed two people and injured 20 others Saturday afternoon outside a bar in the city’s old town before shooting himself to death inside the van.

He was a Muenster resident and apparently well off. The city’s police president, Hajo Kuhlisch, said the man’s four apartments — two in Muenster and two in Saxony — and several cars had been searched thoroughly, but that police were still investigating the evidence and it was too early to speculate about the van driver’s motive.

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

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

Local media have identified the man as an industrial designer who had been suffering from psychological problems, but police would not confirm those details.

Authorities have identified the two victims killed by the van crash as a 51-year-old woman from Lueneburg county, 300 kilometers (186 miles) to the northeast and a 65-year-old man from nearby Borken county. Their names weren’t given, as is customary in Germany.

Early Sunday, 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 nearby the crash scene, police found more firecrackers and a “no-longer usable AK-47 machine gun.”

Officials said some of the 20 people injured were still in a life-threatening condition Sunday. They have not identified them, but said that people from The Netherlands are among them.

Armin Laschet, the governor of North Rhine-Westphalia state where Muenster is located, toured the city Sunday.

“This was a horrible and sad day for the people of Muenster, all of Germany ... and also the people of The Netherlands, who were sitting here and became victims,” he said.

He didn’t elaborate on how many Dutch were injured or how serious those injuries were.

The local daily Muenstersche Zeitung reported that the perpetrator had vaguely announced his suicide plans a week ago in an email to friends, but police wouldn’t confirm those details.

Muenster is a popular tourist destination with 300,000 inhabitants, known for its medieval old town, which was rebuilt after the massive destruction during World War II.

The city was buzzing on Saturday — one of the first warm spring days of the year — and people were sitting outside the famous Kiepenkerl pub when the 48-year-old German drove his van into the bar’s tables with such a vengeance that the vehicle only stopped when it hit the pub’s wall.

Police quickly evacuated the area and ambulances, firefighters and helicopters rushed to the scene to aid those who were injured.

German Interior minister Horst Seehofer, who visited the crash scene with Laschet on Sunday and placed flowers there, said “this cowardly and brutal crime has shocked all of us.”

The city’s Roman Catholic bishop, Felix Glenn, invited all of Muenster’s citizens to a joint Catholic-Lutheran memorial service at the famous Paulus Cathedral on Sunday night.

The Kiepenkerl is not only one of the city’s best-known traditional pubs, but also the emblem of the city, depicting a traveling salesman with a long pipe in his mouth and a big backpack on his back.