BERLIN (AP) — An Iraqi-born man deliberately drove his car into motorcycles along a stretch of Berlin highway, leaving at least one person with life-threatening injuries in what German officials classified Wednesday as a terror attack.
“According to the current state of our investigation, we assume this was an Islamist-motivated attack,” Berlin’s senator for the interior, Andreas Geisel, said. “A religiously motivated background cannot be excluded.”
Six people were injured, three of them severely, when the 30-year-old man allegedly drove into several vehicles, intentionally hitting motorcycles, on Tuesday evening, Berlin prosecutors and police said in a joint statement.
The collisions at three different locations on the BAB100 highway happened shortly before 7 p.m. local time and led to a complete closure of one of the German capital’s main traffic arteries.
Investigators did not reveal the man’s identity, as is customary in Germany, but local media identified the suspect as Sarmad D. He is being investigated for three cases of attempted murder.
There were also indications that the man had mental health issues, Geisel said.
“The fact that the suspect was possibly suffering from psychological problems does not make this issue any easier,” Geisel said. “If personal problems mix with religiously loaded ideas, this can lead to uncontrollable acts — yesterday’s events have shown in a very painful way how vulnerable our society is.”
Prosecutor Martin Steltner told reporters they were investigating if the suspect was linked to any terrorist group or if other people were involved in the attack but had not found any indications of that yet.
However, investigators were looking into tips that the man may had possible contacts with other extremists, Steltner added.
The suspect, who was driving a black Opel Astra, stopped on the highway after the third crash and put an old ammunition box on the roof of his car, claiming it had explosives inside, the statement said.
Several German news outlets reported that the man shouted “Allahu akbar,” or “God is great” in Arabic, as he got out of his car. The Bild daily newspaper reported that he also shouted, “Nobody gets closer, or you will all die.”
The suspect then rolled out a prayer carpet and started praying, daily paper Tagesspiegel reported. A police officer then approached the man, spoke to him in Arabic, pulled him away from the car and detained him, the paper reported.
According to local media reports, the man already was known to Berlin police.
The reports said he was born in Baghdad in 1990 and came to Germany as an asylum-seeker, most likely in 2016. His asylum request was rejected and he his legal status in the country was limited until the end of the year, German news agency dpa reported.
In 2018, he was detained for injuring others and taken to a mental institution for a short time, Tagesspiegel reported.
After first living in a refugee home in Berlin’s Altglienicke neighborhood, he moved to the Reinickendorf district, where he supposedly lived with his brother, dpa said.
Dpa reported that the suspect allegedly made references to his plans on Facebook before the attack. He posted photos of the car that he allegedly drove during the attack, as well as religious writings, the news agency said.
After the man was detained, hundreds of people stuck on the highway nearby were led away from their cars. Specialists opened a box found inside the vehicle with a strong jet of water but found only tools.
Among the three severely injured people, one is in critical condition with severe head and back injuries, Steltner said. One of the three was a firefighter heading home from work.
“If a car intentionally targets motorcycles, they don’t have a chance,” Geisel said.
Authorities said the suspect allegedly first hit a car on the highway in the Wilmersdorf neighborhood, then drove into a motorcyclist, leaving him behind with life-threatening injuries. He hit a second person on a motor scooter, and eventually used his car to push a third motorcyclist into the front of another car, prosecutor Steltner said. The suspect finally got out of his car near the Alboinstrasse exit in Berlin’s Tempelhof district.
Berlin Mayor Michael Mueller said later on Wednesday that he was shocked by the attack.
“I wish all the victims a speedy recovery and a lot of strength for this difficult time,” Mueller said on Twitter.
By KIRSTEN GRIESHABER Associated Press