A teenager armed with an axe and a knife has attacked around 20 passengers on a train in northern Bavaria, according to local police.
Three people were seriously hurt and one person sustained light injuries before the attacker was shot dead by police, a police spokesman said on Monday evening.
Bavaria’s interior minister, Joachim Herrmann, said the attacker was a 17-year-old Afghan asylum seeker who had arrived in Germany as an unaccompanied minor and had been living with a foster family in Ochsenfurt, south of Würzburg, for “a few months”.
After passengers managed to alert the driver, the train was stopped in the Heidingsfeld district of Würzburg, and the attacker had initially managed to flee from the carriage on foot, Herrmann said.
A police taskforce that happened to be in the vicinity then pursued the attacker, shooting dead the 17-year-old, who was carrying an axe and a knife when he had attacked members of the unit.
Asked whether the attack had an Islamist background, Herrmann said one witness inside the train said the teenager had shouted “Allahu Akbar” during the assault. The report was being investigated.
The man reportedly attacked passengers on the regional train travelling between the town of Treuchtlingen and Würzburg. Fourteen other passengers were reportedly in a state of shock and receiving treatment by specialists.
The interior ministry could not confirm whether some of the victims were in a life-threatening condition.
The train line between Ochsenfurt and Würzburg remained closed while police investigated. Police initially said there was no indication of a motive, and they were treating the attacker as a lone individual, citing witness reports.
Germany, which has been at the heart of the refugee crisis over the last year, has not seen any attacks with an explicit terrorist motive. In November a football friendly between Germany and Holland in Hanover was cancelled after a terrorist attack tip-off, with interior minister Thomas de Maiziére saying there had been a “concrete threat” of an attack.
In the aftermath of the terrorist attack in Brussels in March, German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier appealed to citizens to keep a “cool head”.
“The terrorists would like to carry their war into our cities and into our heads, to create a kind of permanent siege, to force their perverse logic of violence and hatred on us”, the social democrat politician said. “We would do our best not to play along with this game”.
About 1.2 million refugees are estimated to be living in Germany. Latest estimates by the European commission put the number of asylum seekers in Europe by the end of 2017 at around 3 million.
According to a study published in April by Germany’s Friedrich Ebert Foundation, around 154,000 Afghan citizens migrated to Germany in 2015, of whom 32,000 applied for asylum. More than 120,000 Afghan citizens remained in Germany without authorisation or had moved on to other countries, according to the study.
The study found that most Afghan migrants were young and male. The majority of family members who were interviewed for the survey said they had fled their country because of the economic situation. Political developments in Europe or the open-border policy of the chancellor, Angela Merkel, at the height of the refugee crisis had played only a minor role in encouraging Afghans to leave their country, the study found.
Germany, while initially generally welcoming refugees, has since begun to take a much tougher line, declaring it would deport Afghan asylum seekers whose applications are rejected.
Earlier in the year, Afghans were the second largest group entering the European Union, with 178,230 Afghans seeking asylum in the EU’s 28 states in 2015.