At least two people were killed and several injured when a car drove through a shopping street in the southwestern German city of Trier on Tuesday, police said, adding that the driver had been arrested.
Police were not immediately able to say whether the SUV had deliberately targeted the pedestrian zone but Trier mayor Wolfram Leibe said the driver appeared to have gone “on a rampage”.
Police sealed off the area and urged people to stay away from the city centre. Police spokesman Karl-Peter Jochem told reporters that the driver was a 51-year-old German from the local area and that “the danger is over”.
He said the man ploughed through the pedestrianised high street in his SUV for about a kilometre before coming to a halt.
“It all happened very quickly. He could not escape and was detained by police,” Jochem said.
On Twitter, Trier police initially said two people were killed. A few minutes later, an updated tweet read: “Several dead and injured in Trier’s inner city.”
Trier mayor Leibe was quoted by SWR as saying that the driver had caused “several deaths” and injuries”.
Speaking to reporters, with tears in his eyes, Leibe recounted the shock of seeing a child’s shoe on the street near the body of a girl.
“It’s a horror scene,” he said. “Many people are traumatised.”
Police spokesman Uwe Konz told AFP it remained unclear what exactly had happened, saying “the background still needs to be clarified”.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert on Twitter called the incident “shocking”. He said the country’s thoughts were with the “relatives of the deceased, the many injured and with all those who are helping to care for those affected”.
Roger Lewentz, the interior minister of the regional government, is due to give a press conference later.
Footage from the scene broadcast on NTV showed several police vans and other emergency vehicles parked on a wide shopping street in Trier, a large section of which appeared to have been cleared.
Shoppers were seen huddling outside shops festooned with Christmas decorations with sirens blaring in the distance.
Trier, near the border with Luxembourg, traces its history back to the Roman Empire and is often called Germany’s oldest city.
Although Germany is grappling with a second coronavirus wave that has forced restaurants, bars, sports and cultural centres to close, retailers have been allowed to stay open and many people are out doing their Christmas shopping.
Although the incident has not been confirmed to be an attack, it brought back memories of the 2016 truck rampage at a Berlin Christmas market that left 12 people dead.
The driver, Anis Amri, was a failed Tunisian asylum seeker and a supporter of the Islamic State jihadist group.
He was shot dead a few days later by police in Milan. The truck assault remains Germany’s deadliest Islamist attack.
In August 2019, six people were injured in a series of motorway accidents in Berlin in what prosecutors described as a suspected Islamist attack