‘Mentally ill’ axe attacker injures nine at German train station

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 March, 2017, 7:09am
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 March, 2017, 2:51pm

German police said Friday an axe-wielding attacker who went on the rampage wounding nine at a railway station was mentally ill and may have hoped police would shoot him dead.

The 36-year-old Kosovan national had been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic with a history of high anxiety and self-harm, police said, ruling out a terrorist motive.

Instead, they suggested he might have carried out the attack at the main railway station in Duesseldorf as an attempt to end his own life.

The suspect was caught after jumping off a bridge and is currently in hospital with fractures and other injuries.

Watch: Axe attacker arrested at German station

News site Spiegel Online identified him as Fatmir H., and police said he had come to Germany in 2009 and had received residency rights “for humanitarian reasons”.

The man sparked panic when he got off a commuter train in the western city late on Thursday and began swinging an axe at passengers, hitting his first victim from behind.

Police commandos with automatic weapons, body armour and balaclavas rushed to the station, backed by police helicopters, amid fears it was a terrorist attack and initial false reports of multiple attackers.

With screams echoing around the station concourse and the wounded bleeding on the ground, police chased the man along railway tracks until he leapt off a four-metre (12-foot) bridge.

Lying on the ground, the injured man told the first officers on the scene that “he had been ready to be shot dead by police,” said local crime squad chief Dietmar Kneip.

“We call that ‘suicide by cop’,” he told a press conference. “But luckily we were able to arrest him.”

Kneip said the suspect’s brother had worried when he bought an axe about a week earlier.

And when he realised his brother had left their home in Wuppertal, 30 kilometres (20 miles) west of Duesseldorf, he phoned the police to report him missing.

But the call could not prevent the attack shortly before 9:00 pm (2000 GMT).

Among the victims were a 13-year-old girl who sustained bad injuries to her upper arm, two female Italian tourists and another woman, as well as five male commuters, all aged between 30 and 50.

“We were on the platform waiting for the train. The train arrived and suddenly someone with an axe came out and started attacking people,” an unnamed witness told Bild.

“There was blood everywhere,” the witness was quoted as saying.

Peter Altmaier, a close adviser to Angela Merkel, wrote on Twitter: “What happened at the central station in Dusseldorf, our compassion and our thoughts go out to the injured.”

Thomas Geisel, city mayor, also reached out to victims, according to Bild.

“It’s a huge blow for Dusseldorf. Many people are in shock. I’d like to thank the police. My thoughts go out to the victims and their families,” he said.

German authorities have been on alert for terror attacks, especially since an assault claimed by the Islamic State group in December when a hijacked truck ploughed into a Berlin Christmas market, killing 12 people.

According to German security services, there are about 10,000 radical Islamists in the country, of whom 1,600 have suspected links to terror groups.

There was another axe attack on a train in 2016 in Germany’s Bavaria, but no-one was killed and the attacker was found to be mentally unbalanced.