BERLIN — A van crashed into a crowd outside a popular bar Saturday in the western German city of Muenster, killing three people and injuring 20 others before the driver of the vehicle killed himself, police said.
Police spokesman Peter Nuessmeyer told The Associated Press that he could not confirm German media reports that the perpetrator was a middle-aged German man who reportedly had psychological issues.
Another police spokesman, Andreas Bode, told reporters the driver shot himself to death in the van after the crash. He said the driver’s identity was not yet known and that it was too early to speculate about his motive.
He said police were checking witness reports that other perpetrators might have fled from the van at the scene of the crash.
Police tweeted that residents should “avoid the area near the Kiepenkerl pub” in the city’s historic downtown area where a large-scale police operation was underway.
Bode said six of the 20 injured were in severe condition. The city’s university hospital called on citizens to donate blood Saturday night to help them.
Police also said they found a suspicious object in the van that they were examining to see if it is dangerous. They told German news agency dpa that was the reason authorities cordoned off such a large area around the crash, which took place at 3:27 p.m. on a warm spring day.
The Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper also said the suspect’s apartment was being searched Saturday night for possible explosives.
Muenster, a major university city, has about 300,000 residents and an attractive city center rebuilt after World War II.
German news Television n-tv showed a narrow street sealed off Saturday with red-and-white police tape. Dozens of ambulances were near the cordoned-off downtown area. Helicopters were flying overhead.
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.
Germany’s top security official said he’s “dismayed by the terrible incident in Muenster” and that city and regional police were working hard to clear up what happened. Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said federal authorities were in close contact with officials in North Rhine-Westphalia state, where Muenster is located.
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, which had risen to 25 degrees Celsius (77 degrees Fahrenheit) from just 12 degrees (low 50s) a day earlier.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said his thoughts are with the victims and relatives of the crash in Muenster.
“We have to assume this was a serious act of violence,” he said. “My deep sympathy goes to all those who have lost a loved one.”