german police were scrambling in the early hours of Sunday to understand the motives of a man who drove a van into a crowd at an open-air restaurant, killing two people before shooting himself.
It was not clear whether he hoped to commit a so-called “murder-suicide” or had political motivations.
But authorities appeared near-certain that there was no Islamist connection to the violence in the historic centre of Muenster.
As well as the dead, police said 20 were injured – six of them seriously – amid the broken and upturned tables and chairs seen strewn across the pavement in images of the scene.
Police said the driver, named locally as 48-year-old German national Jens Handeln, shot himself dead after ramming into the crowd.
According to a report by Süddeutsche Zeitung, the German newspaper, Handeln has a history of mental health issues, and officers were searching his home for explosives on Saturday night.
News website Spiegel Online reportedpolice had found an assault weapon at his flat.
Police spokesman Andreas Bode told reporters at the scene that six of those injured were in a serious condition and confirmed that the driver was dead.
“The suspect killed himself in the vehicle. The identity of the suspect is not yet clear,” he said.
The van ploughed into people sitting outside on a warm afternoon in Münster, crashing into tables outside of the Grosser Kiepenkerl restaurant in the historic centre of the city. The restaurant is a popular tourist attraction in the picturesque city of 300,000 residents.
Police also urged people to refrain from spreading “speculation” about the incident.
Interior minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, Herbert Reul, said the suspect “was a German citizen and not as it was everywhere alleged a refugee or something similar. The details are being thoroughly examined.
“Because of that it can’t now be said what was the background. There is nothing saying at the moment that there was any Islamist background, but it must be waited on. It will be investigated from all sides.”
Lino Baldi, who owns an Italian restaurant in Muenster near the scene of the crash, told Sky TG24 that the city center was packed due to a Saturday market and summer-like temperatures.
The vehicle struck at 3.27pm as tourists and students basked in the sunshine.
A witness told Germany’s NTV: “There was a bang and then screaming. The police arrived and got everyone out of here. There were a lot of people screaming. I’m angry, it’s cowardly to do something like this.”
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said: “This was a serious act of violence. My deep sympathy goes to all those who have lost a loved one.”
Münster is a city of around 300,000 people in North Rhine-Westphalia, to the west of Germany near the border with the Netherlands. Around a fifth of the population are students, and there are four universities within the city. It is also known as the bicycle capital of Germany.
A spokeswoman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel said “our thoughts are with the victims and their families” who were killed and injured in the incident.
Spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer on Twitter called the crash Saturday “terrible news.”
Katarina Barley, the German justice minister, added: “We must do everything to clarify the background of the incident.”
Markus Lewe, the city’s mayor, said the motive was unclear.
He added: “All of Münster is mourning this horrible incident. Our sympathy is with the relatives of those who were killed. We wish the injured a quick recovery. At this point we don’t know the background to the incident.”
While details on this incident remain scarce, it has quickly drawn global attention, including a tweet from US President Donald Trump’s son, Donald Trump Junior, who said “this doesn’t sound like a simple accident to me” without clarifying further.
While the crash has yet to be officially confirmed as an attack, the head of a regional police union, Erich Rettinghouse, told local media: “There has been a continuous, latent danger of an attack in the whole of Germany. Now it has sadly hit North-Rhine Westphalia, where we have so far been fortunate enough to be able to foil planned attacks and prevent assassinations.”