Authorities say at least three people were killed Saturday with dozens others injured after a man drove a van into a crowd in Münster, Germany, before fatally shooting himself. German security officials said they have not determined if the attack was intentional or meant to be an act of terrorism.
Local authorities have asked residents and visitors to avoid Münster's city center as they respond to the incident. "There are dead and injured. Please avoid the area," the Washington Post reported the North Rhine-Westphalia regional police said in a brief statement posted on Twitter. "We are on site." According to multiple media reports, the incident occurred at a restaurant's open terrace area near the famed Kiepenkerl statue in a section of Münster's old town.
A spokesperson for the German police told the Associated Press that three people had been killed in the incident while another 20 people were reported to have been injured. It was not immediately clear if any of those who had been injured were in critical condition. The driver of the van was reported to have shot himself immediately after the crash.
Security officials have said they were responding to the incident as if it was a terrorist attack despite still being unclear as to whether or not there actually was a terrorism connection, the Post reported. On Twitter, police repeatedly urged folks to refrain from speculation and sharing rumors. "Spreading rumors does not help up," the North Rhine-Westphalia regional police wrote on Twitter.
According to the Associated Press, police have reported finding "a suspicious object" in the van. Law enforcement authorities reportedly told German news agency DPA that they had blocked off a sizable area around the scene of the crash as a result of the object. A bomb squad was reportedly dispatched to the scene to check the van for explosives, the Post reported. It was not immediately clear if the object police had reportedly found had any connection to the bomb squad being dispatched.
In a statement delivered to reporters shortly after the crash, Münster city Mayor Markus Lewe said investigators were still attempting to determine the driver of the van's motive or the reason for the crash. "All of Muenster is mourning this horrible incident," Lewe said. "Our sympathy is with the relatives of those who were killed. We wish the injured a quick recovery."
Ulrike Demmer, a spokeswoman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, described the incident as "terrible news" in comments on Twitter. "Our thoughts are with the victims and their families," she said in a statement posted to her official Twitter account Saturday.
Saturday's crash in Münster happened on the one-year anniversary of a vehicular attack in Stockholm, Sweden that left five people dead and roughly a dozen others injured. In that incident a hijacked beer truck was driven into a crowd on Stockholm's Drottninggatan pedestrian thoroughfare. It was not immediately clear, however, if there was a connection between the two incidents.
Although German authorities have not yet determined if Saturday's incident was an intentional act of terrorism, vehicles have been used as weapons in terrorist attacks before. More than a dozen people were killed in August when a van plowed into pedestrians along Barcelona's popular Las Ramblas. Prior to that, seven people were killed and 48 were injured in London last June when three men in a van drove into pedestrians on London Bridge before going on a stabbing spree in nearby Borough Market. And in December 2016, 12 people were killed with nearly 50 others injured when a truck drove into a crowd at a Berlin Christmas market.