Cologne police are investigating whether extremism was the motivation behind a bloody hostage-taking at the city’s main train station, but so far have found no ties to the Islamic State group, authorities said Tuesday.
Criminal police investigation leader Klaus-Stephan Becker told reporters the man has been identified as a 55-year-old Syrian refugee who came to Germany in early 2015 and was granted asylum.
Witnesses to the Monday attack in the crowded train station reported to police that the suspect, whose name wasn’t released, said he was acting in the name of the Islamic State group. But Becker said they found nothing in the man’s Cologne apartment to support that.
Police found Arabic phrases like “Muhammad is my prophet” written in the apartment but no concrete evidence of Islamic extremism, Becker said.
The suspect was shot several times after police stormed the pharmacy in the train station where he held a woman hostage for two hours. He is no longer in a life-threatening condition but remains in a coma.
The attack started when the man entered a McDonald’s restaurant in the train station and lit fire to a gasoline bomb, injuring two people. One, a 14-year-old girl, was being operated on Tuesday for severe burns and the other was treated for smoke inhalation at the scene.
He then moved to the nearby pharmacy and took a worker hostage, armed with what turned out to be an airgun.
The man threatened the woman when police stormed the pharmacy. In the pharmacy’s back room police found gas canisters like the type used for camp stoves.
It would have been difficult for the man to have ignited the gas canisters with the material he had but had he managed to, they could have caused a large explosion, Becker said.
“What his plan was I can only speculate, but what we have seen makes clear that he wanted to harm many people,” Becker said.
Authorities believe the suspect may have had psychological problems, but are still investigating, Becker said. He had been investigated by police 13 times in the past for what Becker characterized as small to medium-level crimes, including possession of a small amount of marijuana, theft, disturbing the peace and fraud.
The suspect’s son and brother also live in Germany. Police have questioned the former and are planning on talking with the latter. His wife still lives in Syria, Becker said.
The suspect is being investigated on charges of attempted murder, bodily harm, and hostage-taking. The federal prosecutor’s office, which handles terrorism and national security cases in Germany, will likely take over the investigation because it appears to have “particular significance,” representative Markus Schmitt said.
The hostage was injured during the incident but was being released from a hospital Tuesday.
Police are trying to determine whether the suspect came to the train station alone and are calling for any witnesses with video of him to upload it for analysis.
More than a million migrants, mostly Muslims from war-torn countries like Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, have entered Germany since 2015, leading to a backlash in parts of the country and the rise of the far-right Alternative for Germany party.
The incident again brings a focus on Cologne, which has seen several criminal incidents relating to migrants in recent years.
On New Year’s Eve in 2015, festivities in Cologne were overshadowed when hundreds of women complained of being groped and robbed, mostly by groups of migrants.
Since early 2016, migration has diminished significantly.