[UPDATE: Munich police say shooter ‘probably’ alone, committed suicide. Death toll at 10]
MUNICH – A shooting rampage in a busy shopping area of Munich left at least eight people dead Friday and sparked a manhunt for as many as three gunmen who fled the scene after carrying out an act of “suspected terrorism,” authorities said.
Police later reported a ninth fatality and said they were trying to verify whether a gunman committed suicide. No other details were immediately available.
“We believe there are three perpetrators,” a police spokesman told reporters earlier. “They are still at large.” He declined to provide details about the victims of what he said “looks like a terrorist attack.”
Police put much of the southern German city on lockdown as they searched for the attackers. Despite initial reports of multiple attack sites, the police spokesman said he could not confirm attacks in any other locations besides the shopping area.
Officials did not immediately provide details on how the attacks unfolded or the full scope of the bloodshed at the Olympia shopping complex.
But a senior security official told The Washington Post that four people were killed inside a McDonald’s restaurant and one was fatally shot outside. The official said another victim died at a hospital.
The initial investigation was pointing “in all directions,” police spokesman Marcus de Gloria Martins told reporters in Munich.
A German intelligence official noted that it was the fifth anniversary of a lone-wolf massacre in Norway that claimed the lives of 77 people. The bomb and gun attacks there were carried out by a right-wing extremist.
A manhunt was launched as helicopters fanned out over the city, and Munich’s transit system was shut down. Residents were asked to stay off the streets.
Munich police spokesman Peter Beck said that “according to the current state of investigation, there were three attackers armed with long guns. They’re still on the run.”
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the shootings, but a high-ranking police official told The Post that they appeared likely to be linked to terrorism.
A message posted online in Arabic, apparently from an Islamic State account, said: “Nowhere is safe for all of you. You people have opened the doors of hell by declaring war on us.”
An elite German counterterrorist force was promptly dispatched to Munich to help deal with the situation.
An employee inside the mall, who would give only her first name, Sabiha, said she saw a gunman open fire outside her clothing store. The assailant – described as about 6-foot-1 and wearing a black shirt and “some kind of vest” – moved through the corridors before leaving the building, Sabiha told The Washington Post.
Sabiha said she saw at least two people killed and one injured.
“I was lucky because he shot toward the other directions, not mine,” she said, speaking from a hiding spot inside a storage room in the store.
A video clip posted on Twitter showed a gunman opening fire outside a McDonald’s near the shopping complex as people dashed for cover. The man appeared to fire on passersby with a handgun, seemingly at random.
A police statement sent by Twitter urged people near the site to remain in their homes.
A similar announcement was issued by the U.S. Consulate in Munich, which reported “shots fired at multiple locations in Munich.” It advised U.S. citizens to “shelter in place pending police announcements that the situation is under control.”
A later statement issued by the consulate shortly before 10:30 p.m. local time said that “Munich’s main railway station is closed, and mass transit remains halted.”
In Washington, President Barack Obama told a group of law enforcement officers at the White House that the United States is offering German authorities “all the support that they may need in dealing with these circumstances,” which he said remain murky.
He said the Munich attacks serve as a reminder that “our freedoms, our ability to go about our business every day, raising our kids, seeing them grow up and graduate from high school, now about to leave their dad – I’m sorry, I’m getting a little too personal, getting a little too personal there – that depends on law enforcement. It depends on the men and women in uniform every single day who are, under some of the most adverse circumstances imaginable at times, making sure to keep us safe.”
In a separate statement, the White House said the United States “condemns in the strongest terms the apparent terrorist attack that has claimed innocent lives in Munich.” It added: “The resolve of Germany, the United States, and the broader international community will remain unshaken in the face of acts of despicable violence such as this.”
The Munich mall is near the city’s Olympic Stadium, the centerpiece of the 1972 Summer Olympic Games that become known for tragedy when Palestinian terrorists took Israeli athletes hostage and killed 11 of them.
German security forces have been on heightened alert since Monday, when a 17-year-old Afghan attacked passengers on a train in southern Germany. At least five people were injured.
The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the train attack, but German authorities have said there is no evidence of direct links between the teen and the group.
Last month, German authorities arrested three Syrians on suspicion of planning an Islamic State attack on the city of Düsseldorf. The men had entered Germany with a wave of migrants fleeing war and mayhem in the Middle East.
The alleged plot involved suicide bombers, firearms and explosives, German authorities said. The arrests potentially thwarted a deadly operation comparable to assaults on Brussels in March and Paris last November.
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Souad Mekhennet, Brian Murphy, William Branigin
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