MUNICH (Reuters) – Police found a hand-painted Islamic State flag and a text written partly in Pashto in the room of a young Afghan refugee who attacked passengers on a train in southern Germany with an axe, a state minister said on Tuesday.
Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann said it was too early to say whether the youth was a member of Islamic State or any other militant group. Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, according to its Amaq news agency.
“We are aware of the claim of responsibility by Islamic State, but…the investigation has not produced any evidence thus far that would indicate this young man was part of an Islamist network,” Herrmann told a news conference.
The 17-year-old severely wounded four Hong Kong residents, one of whom remains in a critical condition, on the train late on Monday, and then injured a local woman after fleeing before police shot him dead.
The attack took place days after a Tunisian delivery man plowed a truck into crowds of Bastille Day revelers in the southern French city of Nice, killing 84. Islamic State has also claimed responsibility for that incident.
The case is likely to deepen worries about so-called “lone wolf” attacks in Europe and could put political pressure on German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has welcomed hundreds of thousands of migrants to Germany over the past year.
A leader of the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) said Merkel and her supporters were to blame for the dangerous security situation because their “welcoming policies had brought too many young, uneducated and radical Muslim men to Germany”.
Herrmann said people who knew the attacker had described him as a “quiet and balanced person who went to the mosque for important holidays, but wasn’t necessarily there every week.”
“He was described as a devout Muslim, but not in any way one who was a radical or fanatic,” Herrmann added.
At least one witness reported that the attacker, who had been living with a foster family in the nearby town of Ochsenfurt, had shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest).
Herrmann told Reuters TV that a hand-painted IS flag was found among his belongings when police searched his home, as well as a text that included references to Islam and the “need to resist”, according to an initial translation from the Afghan language of Pashto.
He said the text was subject to interpretation, and stressed that the attack was no reason to cast suspicion on other refugees or for Germans to stop living their lives normally.
“Some things clearly point to an Islamist background, but there is no evidence at this point connecting him to any other individuals, or indicating whether he radicalized himself,” Herrmann said. “That must all still be investigated.”
He started attacking his passengers with an axe and a knife around 9 p.m. local time as the train was approaching its last stop, the Bavarian city of Wuerzburg, Herrmann said.
The attacker, who came to Germany as an unaccompanied minor two years ago, fled into the town of Heidingsfeld after the emergency brake was pulled. He was pursued by a police unit and shot dead after attacking a woman and trying to assault the police officers, Herrmann said.
Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying condemned the attack, which he said injured four of five members of a Hong Kong family that was on holiday in Germany. Herrmann said the family had visited the medieval town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber before the attack.
Leung’s office said Hong Kong and Chinese officials were in touch with the German embassy to follow up on the case, and representatives were en route to visit the family.
Unlike neighbors France and Belgium, Germany has not been the victim of a major attack by Islamic militants in recent years, although security officials say they have thwarted a large number of plots.
Germany welcomed about 1 million migrants in 2015, including thousands of unaccompanied minors. Many were fleeing war in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
(Reporting by Michael Nienaber, Noah Barkin, Andrea Shalal, Caroline Copley, Michelle Martin and Gernot Heller, and Jens Hack in Munich and Reuters TV; Writing by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Angus MacSwan)