By Joseph Nasr
VOLKMARSEN, Germany (Reuters) – Germany increased security at some carnival processions on Tuesday after a local man plowed his car into a parade in the western German town of Volkmarsen, injuring around 60 people, including at least 18 children.
The incident on Monday shook Germans still struggling to take in last week’s racist gun attack on two bars in the town of Hanau which left 11 people dead.
The driver was detained at the carnival on suspicion of attempted homicide and was being treated for his own injuries.
An emergency responder said bystanders had punched the man while he tried to choke her as she leaned into the car to remove the key.
“He didn’t say a word. He looked at you empty and dead and seemed so satisfied,” Lea-Sophie Schloemer told Welt television. “It was really unnerving how satisfied he seemed.”
The prosecutors’ spokesman said the driver had not yet been in a fit state to be questioned, but was not drunk at the time of the incident. Initial tests for alcohol were negative but that was not a final assessment and there were as yet no results from the drug test.
The motive was still unclear. “We are investigating all possibilities,” he said.
He said earlier there was no sign the investigation would be handed to national prosecutors, suggesting they did not see a political motive.
While some carnival processions in the state of Hesse, home to Volkmarsen, were canceled, others were due to take place in the region on Tuesday. A police spokesman said security would be intensified.
Rose Monday is the height of the carnival season in Catholic areas of Germany, especially in the Rhineland where tens of thousands of people dress up, drink alcohol and line the streets to watch decorated floats that often mock public figures.
Prosecutors said there was no concrete reason to think the risk of attacks at parades had increased, but they urged organizers to review their security arrangements and adjust them if necessary.
Security at public events in Germany has been tightened since a Tunisian man with Islamist militant ties plowed a truck into a Christmas market in Berlin in 2016, killing 12 people. He was later shot dead by Italian police after fleeing.
A police spokesman said he could not rule out that some of the injured in Volkmarsen were in a life-threatening condition.
Police had detained the driver, a 29-year-old German from the town who had been driving a silver Mercedes car, and he would appear before an investigating magistrate as soon as his condition allowed, state prosecutors said.
“There are so far no indications of politically-motivated criminality,” Bild newspaper cited an investigator as saying.
“But we think that the perpetrator acted with intent, and that psychological problems may have played a role,” the investigator added.
Prosecutors confirmed that a second man had been detained at the scene on Monday and was accused of filming the incident. The spokesman said prosecutors were investigating whether the man had links to the driver, including checking phone records.
The street where the incident happened in the center of the small town was still cordoned off by police on Tuesday and several stores in the area were closed. Residents were in shock.
“It’s terrible. I don’t know how somebody could do this, especially to children,” said 58-year-old Rainer Bellmann.
Locals told Reuters that police had searched two homes in the town, including one apartment near to the scene that a police officer said was the home of relatives of the man.
(Additional reporting by Hans Seidenstuecker in Frankfurt, Michelle Martin and Reuters Television; editing by Philippa Fletcher; Writing by Madeline Chambers and Emma Thomasson; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Philippa Fletcher)