June 6, 2023

BERLIN (AP) — An explosion at a residential building in Germany that seriously injured nine first responders appears to be a planned attack carried out by a man wanted in connection with an unpaid fine, officials said Friday.

Police and firefighters had rushed to the building in the western town of Ratingen on Thursday after receiving a call about a helpless person in an apartment on the top floor.

What started as a routine operation turned into an inferno when a man opened the apartment door and threw out a burning object which exploded in a fireball, seriously injuring the first responders.

“We are deeply shocked,” said Thomas Hendele, head of the administration in Mettmann county, of which Ratingen is part. “We are angry. Angry at this act, for which there is no justification.”

Hours later, a special unit arrested a 57-year-old German man as a suspect.

An investigation revealed that the man had stored flammable liquids in the building, indicating that he had prepared for the attack, police said.

Of the nine people seriously injured, two police officers and three firefighters were fighting for their lives with burns over much of their bodies, Hendele said.

“We are not sure if they will survive this battle,” he said.

Twenty-two police officers also suffered minor injuries in the incident.

Police officers found a body in the apartment, believed to be that of the suspect’s mother, Detective Heike Schultz said. The woman had been dead for several weeks.

An elderly man was also found dead elsewhere in the building. Authorities are investigating the circumstances of his death; German media reported that he may have died after not receiving care due to ongoing police operations in the building.

Schultz said there was evidence that the suspect endorsed conspiracy theories about the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s still unclear if that was a motive,” she added.

An officer last week tried to enforce an arrest warrant for the man over an unpaid fine, but was unsuccessful, authorities said. Thursday’s police action had nothing to do with that order, the police said.

Laura Neumann of the Düsseldorf public prosecutor’s office said the man was being held on nine counts of attempted murder while the investigation continued.