Berlin police have classified as an Islamist terror attempt an incident on the city’s Autobahn on Tuesday night involving a 30-year-old Iraqi man.
Driving a black Opel Astra, police say the man, identified in local media as Baghdad-born Sarmad A, “hunted” motorbike riders in three separate crashes on the A100 ring road around the city from 6.35pm. Six were injured in the crashes, including three seriously. After causing his third crash, the man reportedly rolled out a prayer mat on the busy Autobahn and began praying.
“From our current knowledge it was an Islamist attack,” said Martin Steltner, a spokesman for the Berlin state prosecutor. “He is suspected of hunting motorbike riders . . . and ramming them.”
The first incident saw the man ram a scooter, driven by an off-duty fireman on his way home from work. The fireman had to be reanimated at the scene, undergo an emergency operation and remains in a critical condition.
A second motorbike rider was rammed a short time later at another location. After a third collision with a motorcycle rider, the Iraqi man stopped his car on the motorway and shouted “Allahu akbar” (God is the greatest).
After the third crash, eyewitnesses saw him put a metal box on the roof of the car and tell them that, if they approached him, they would all die.
“The man who caused the crash came to a halt, got out and put a munition box on the vehicle and claimed it was a dangerous object,” said Thilo Cablitz, Berlin police spokesman.
Police were called to the scene and arrested him, taking him away for questioning and psychological assessment.
The crash scene was sealed and explosives experts of the state police shot open the metal box with a water cannon, revealing it to contain tools.
The incident brought traffic on the A100 Autobahn to a standstill for several hours.
Investigators praised an Arab-speaking police colleague for helping to defuse the situation. He was near the crash and addressed the man in Arabic, pulled him from the vehicle and arrested him.
Police say the driver was born in 1990 and came to Germany two years ago after living in Finland. Two years ago he was detained for grievous bodily harm and began psychological therapy, including a brief spell in a clinic in August 2018.
State prosecutors say it is possible that the man, with tolerated asylum seeker status, was radicalised in his accommodation where he lived until October 2019 with others linked to Islamic State.
On his Facebook page before the attack, he posted images of himself with the Opel car alongside religious symbols.
In a statement the prosecutor said that, after the attack, the man showed signs of “psychological instability”.
If he is deemed fit to stand trial, he faces at least six charges of attempted murder.
Berlin’s mayor Michael Müller said he was “deeply shocked that the accident on the A100 was caused deliberately”.