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2 dead in Germany after truck rams crowd

Police in Münster, Germany, had cordoned off the Old City while they examined evidence after a deadly car attack.
Police in Münster, Germany, had cordoned off the Old City while they examined evidence after a deadly car attack.(Friso Gentsch/AFP/Getty Images)

BERLIN — Two people were killed and about 20 injured Saturday in Münster, in western Germany, after the driver of a small truck plowed into a group of people in the heart of the old city, police said.

The driver shot and killed himself in the cab of the truck immediately after the crash, said Andreas Bode, a spokesman for Münster police.

The truck struck tables where people drinking outside a popular downtown restaurant and bar. Officials said there was no indication of terrorist plot but said they were investigating all possibilities

“What led to the act is still fully unclear and we are investigating in all directions,” Bode said.

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Police also said they were investigating what they identified as a “suspicious item” found in the cab of the truck, but declined to give any further details. They ordered all residents of the inner city and reporters at the scene to clear out while they were investigating the item.

Herbert Reul, the interior minister of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, where Münster is, said the driver was a German citizen.

Several German media outlets, citing unnamed security sources, reported that the driver had a history of psychological problems. According to the Süddeutsche Zeitung, a national newspaper, the man was born in 1969 and had come to the attention of authorities for psychological issues in 2014 and 2016.

The newspaper also reported that the suspect’s apartment was searched Saturday night for possible explosives and other evidence.

Police repeatedly urged people on Twitter to stop speculating about the circumstances of the crash, insisting that it was too soon to determine its cause.

Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her shock at the crash and pledged to do “everything possible to investigate the act and to support the families of the victims,” she wrote on Twitter.

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While authorities refused to say anything about the motive of the driver or the reason for the crash, it evoked comparisons to the December 2016 truck attack on a Berlin Christmas market that killed 12 people.

Germany was targeted in several attacks by Islamist extremists in 2015 and 2016, and officials have expressed concern about people who have returned to the country after fighting for the Islamic State in Syria or Iraq.

Officials with the country’s Federal Criminal Office believe that 980 Germans left the country to join the fight with the Islamic State and may be seeking to return.

But unlike the attack in Berlin, or the July 2016 truck attack on a crowd in Nice, France, the driver in Münster did not attempt to flee the scene, or seek to engage police.

Saturday’s crash occurred outside the Grosser Kiepenkerl, a restaurant on a cobble-stoned street in the center of the city that is popular with locals and tourists, police said. It is not in a pedestrian zone, but the area has wide sidewalks where people had been sitting outside on a sunny afternoon, police said.

Ugur Hur was working at a nearby cafe in downtown Münster when the crash took place.

‘‘I heard a loud bang, screaming. And the police arrived and everyone was sent out,’’ he told the Associated Press. ‘‘A lot of people were running away screaming.’’

Images from Münster showed bands of red-and-white police tape and rows of police vans that cordoned off the old city. Authorities urged people to leave in order to allow access for emergency services.

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“We are here. Please stay away from the Old City,” Münster police wrote on Twitter. “Respect the victims. First-responders are treating the injured.”

Germany’s new interior minister, Horst Seehofer, said that federal authorities were in contact with police in North Rhine-Westphalia. He expressed his condolences to the victims’ families.

The Münster University Hospital put out an urgent call for citizens to donate blood — and so many people rushed to help that long lines of donors formed. The university canceled the call after only an hour and thanked everyone on Twitter ‘‘for your overwhelming support.’’

Münster, a major university city, has about 300,000 residents and an attractive medieval city center that was rebuilt after World War II.

The Kiepenkerl is not only one of the city’s best-known traditional pubs, but also the emblem of the city, depicting a traveling salesman with a long pipe in his mouth and a big backpack on his back.