Germany probes Islamist motive in Cologne attack

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Klaus Rüschenschmidt, Cologne Police: 'He had flammable li...

Prosecutors have suggested that a Syrian man may have acted on extremist sympathies when he staged the attack. The suspect allegedly demanded permission to join the "Islamic State" in Syria during police negotiations.

The federal prosecutor's office in Germany on Wednesday took over the case of a 55-year-old Syrian man accused of staging an attack at Cologne's central station earlier this week.

Prosecutors said there was enough evidence to suggest an Islamist motive in the attack, citing witness testimony that says he claimed allegiance to the "Islamic State" and demanded permission to travel to Syria to join the militant group during police negotiations.

However, police also noted that the unemployed asylum seeker may have suffered from psychological issues. After raiding his residence, police said they found little to link him to the group.

Read more: 'Germany needs a national strategy' for radicalization prevention

A highly-trained special police unit was deployed to secure the station and end the hostage-taking situation

What happened:

  • On Monday afternoon, a man threw a Molotov cocktail into a McDonald's at Cologne's central train station, injuring three people, including one seriously. An eyewitness told DW that a young woman fled the restaurant with her legs on fire. The attack triggered the fast food restaurant's alarms and sprinkler system.
  • Shortly after, the man took a female hostage at a nearby pharmacy. Police were immediately notified of the situation and deployed special commando units and a negotiation team to the scene. The man allegedly demanded the release of a Tunisian woman.
  • After establishing contact with the man, who appeared to be wielding a pistol, police stormed the pharmacy. During the operation, the man sustained a serious gunshot wound. The female hostage was freed and received medical attention afterward for light injuries.
  • Police combed the railway station, a major travel hub for Germany and Western Europe, to search for any other improvised explosive devices (IEDs). During their search, they discovered the identity documents for a 55-year-old Syrian migrant with a German residence visa valid until 2021.

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Cologne station hostage situation: How it unfolded

Woman taken hostage

A man took a woman hostage at a pharmacy at Cologne train station around 12:45 p.m. (1045 UTC) on Monday, police said. Police believed the hostage-taker was armed. "We're doing everything to get the hostage out of there unharmed," police spokesman Christoph Gilles said initially.

Cologne station hostage situation: How it unfolded

Cologne central station evacuated

Cologne train station, one of the biggest in the country, was evacuated and cordoned off. Police urged locals to avoid the area and warned of likely disruptions to train services. Deutsche Bahn, Germany's main train operator, said the station would be closed until further notice and all traffic, including long-distance connections, had been suspended.

Cologne station hostage situation: How it unfolded

Police in contact with hostage-taker

DW's Dana Regev was at the scene and watched as negotiation crisis units. Police spokesman Christoph Gilles said they were working to find out "what the hostage-taker wants, what his demands are and whether he carries a weapon," adding that police were not aware of the man's motive.

Cologne station hostage situation: How it unfolded

Witnesses heard shots

Police could not confirm eye-witness reports that shots and explosions were heard. Ambulances and heavily-armed police were lined up and waiting behind the train station. DW's Dana Regev reported that two shots had been fired inside the station. A 14-year-old girl was seriously injured with burns during the course of the hostage situation.

Cologne station hostage situation: How it unfolded

Hostage rescued

Police captured the hostage-taker who was seriously injured and rescued the woman he had taken hostage. "The suspect is under control," Cologne police said. "A female hostage has sustained light injuries and is being tended to."

Cologne station hostage situation: How it unfolded

Suspect claims to be IS member

Police later said the suspect, who was badly wounded when police arrived, claimed to be a member of the Islamic State (IS). The man first hurled a Molotov cocktail inside a fast-food restaurant, injuring the 14-year-old girl, then took another woman hostage in a nearby pharmacy. He was holding a real or replica pistol when commandos stormed the site and was in possession of camping gas containers.

ls/aw (Reuters, dpa)

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