Doubts have been cast on the origins of the ax attacker on a commuter train in Würzburg. Investigators are now following clues pointing to Pakistan. Germany's interior minister said the young man was goaded by "IS."
News organizations had widely reported that the Würzburg assailant had come to Germany from Afghanistan; however, investigators said they had found clues pointing at Pakistan, including documents from Pakistan found at his place of residence.
According to officials speaking on the German national broadcaster ZDF, the assailant may have claimed that he had emigrated from Afghanistan in order to better his chances of being granted refugee status in Germany. He had also stated that he was 17 years old, which may also have been incorrect.
In a video recorded before the event, the assailant had confessed that he was about to carry out the attack speaking in a Pashtu dialect, which experts say clearly identified his origins as Pakistani. In addition to cues found in his overall pronunciation, certain terms used in his recording, including "suicide," "military," and "governments" unequivocally referred to Pakistani terminology, according to the Reuters news agency.
The ax attacker recorded a video in his native Pashtu language, which experts say featured a dialect pointing at Pakistan
Investigators also added that the attacker's name as identified by the so-called "Islamic State" (IS) militant group was different from his name registered in Germany.
Federal prosecutors have taken over the case from state officials, citing a suspicion that the 17-year-old had committed a targeted act as a member of IS. They also suspect he may have had accomplices.
The assailant had pledged allegiance to the terror organization before carrying out the attack. He had, until now, been regarded as self-radicalized, because no direct links could be established between him and IS.
Authorities still assume Afghan origin
The head of Germany's domestic intelligence agency, the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (BfV), Hans-Georg Maassen, agreed that there were questions about the origins of the assailant.
However, despite this assessment, the interior minister of the federal state of Bavaria, Joachim Herrmann, said investigators were still working under the assumption that the attacker came from Afghanistan, adding that the video was deemed to be real despite the discrepancies in terms of linguistic cues presented in it.
"Our findings indicate that he repeatedly used the same name and the same place of birth in Afghanistan, including at the border control in Passau, the district office in Würzburg and the Central Register of Foreigners," a ministry spokesperson told DPA news agency.
No evidence of direct instruction: de Maiziere
German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere told reporters in Berlin Wednesday that the attacker appeared to have acted alone, but was goaded by propaganda from the "Islamic State" group. De Maiziere confirmed that a video of the young man circulated by "IS" supporters was authentic, but it was not yet clear when it was filmed.
"It is perhaps a case that occupies a grey area between a crazed rampage and a terrorist act," de Maiziere said. Much of the interior minister's speech was focused on attempts to reassure the German public - he listed 12 counterterrorism measures authorities had taken in recent months, including improving the compatibility of European databases. He also implored the many Germans who had volunteered to help refugees to keep doing so.
On the question of whether the attacker originated from Afghanistan or Pakistan, de Maiziere said that required further investigation.
Experts warn of backlash against refugees
Maassen stressed that there was a real danger of an increase in negative sentiments against refugees after the attack. He added that it was IS' intention to spread fear and terror with such attacks. A representative from the Federal Association for Unaccompanied Minor Refugees, Niels Espenhorst, meanwhile said that following the attack, refugee minors were at risk of being ostracized and alienated.
"We have to warn people not to place unaccompanied minor refugees as a group under a general sense suspicion of being terrorists," Espenhorst said.
The head of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, Aiman Mazyek, also warned that the intention of the assailant was to spark growing division in Germany over the integration of foreigners and the reception of refugees.
"We have to do everything (in our power) to prevent him from succeeding," Mazyek said, adding that he was praying for the full and speedy recovery of those injured in the attack.
The Würzburg attacker was shot and killed by police after injuring five people on a commuter train earlier in the week. Two of the victims of the attack remain in a critical condition, according to local police sources. All but one of the victims reportedly came from Hong Kong.
De Maiziere had opened his press conference by saying he was praying for the victims' recovery. It remained unclear whether they would all survive, he added.