A baby girl aged nine months was among at least five people killed and 15 injured after a car ploughed into a group of pedestrians in a southwestern German town centre.
Eyewitnesses described bodies being flung into the air as a dark grey Range Rover rammed through shoppers in the pedestrianised centre in Trier just after 2pm.
The 51-year-old driver from the Trier-Saarburg district has been arrested, the city’s local police force tweeted.
Prosecutor Peter Fritzen, who was heading the investigation, said the suspect was well above the legal drink-drive limit.
He ruled out terrorism, saying a doctor had recently reached the preliminary conclusion the man could be suffering from mental illness.
One witness, who watched the rampage from a shop, described seeing a child’s buggy being thrown into the air as people ran indoors in panic.
Mayor Wolfram Leibe told the SWR broadcaster that in addition to the five dead, 15 people had suffered serious injuries, four of them critical.
The others killed were identified as a 25-year-old woman and a 45-year-old man from Trier. The baby’s mother was among those in hospital. Police said the oldest victim was aged 73.
Mayor Leibe was visibly shaken as he described the aftermath of the crash at a press conference. He said he had seen one of the young girl’s discarded shoes at the scene.
"We have a driver who ran amok in the city. We have two dead that we are certain of and up to 15 injured, some of them with the most severe injuries," Leibe told SWR.
"I just walked through the city centre and it was just horrible. There is a trainer lying on the ground, and the girl it belongs to is dead," after the sentence, he dropped the microphone in a tear-choked voice.
“I can’t understand how someone gets the idea to drive through the city centre with an SUV to kill people,” he later said.
“Kill people — a baby, nine months old to a woman 73 years old; what did these people do? They just wanted to go to the city, shop, and now they are dead.”
Uwe Konz, head of the Trier police press office, told BILD: "After driving through the pedestrian zone, several people were injured. Doctors are currently on site.
"We can't say anything about the background, whether it's terror or the like."
Social media footage shows pedestrians frantically trying to flag down emergency services to treat a victim who is lying motionless in a shopfront.
Another video posted online shows the suspected driver being pinned to the ground by armed police officers as they report the licence plate of the silver 4x4 which had a smashed windscreen.
The Trierischer Volksfreund local newspaper quoted an eyewitness as saying a dark grey Range Rover was driving at high speed and people had been thrown through the air.
It said the city centre had been cordoned off and helicopters were circling overhead.
Another video on Twitter shows the pedestrianised town centre smashed up in the wake of the Range Rover - as the injured hobble to seek treatment.
— Amichai Stein (@AmichaiStein1) December 1, 2020
Trier is about 200 kilometers (120 miles) west of Frankfurt, near the border with Luxembourg.
While Trier is usually home to one of Germany's most popular Christmas markets, the event was cancelled this year because of the pandemic.
Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman called today's news “shocking” and said the government's thoughts were with the injured people and relatives of victims.
Regional premier Malu Dreyer said she was deeply shaken by the events in the historic city which she described as her home town.
The suspect, whose name was not released in line with German privacy laws, had no fixed address and had been living in recent days in the Land Rover that a friend had loaned him, which was used in the attack, said prosecutor Peter Fritzen, who was heading the investigation.
He was being interrogated by police and was to undergo a psychiatric examination, Mr Fritzen said, adding that a doctor had recently reached the preliminary conclusion the man could be suffering from mental illness.
“We have no indication that there was any kind of a terrorist, political or religious motive that could have played a role,” he told reporters.
The suspect had also consumed a “not insignificant” quantity of alcohol before the incident and was well above the legal limit, he added.
German police tweeted: "Several injured people who were hit by a car in the pedestrian zone in #Trier .
"Please avoid the area, the police are on site together with other emergency services."
They later confirmed at least two people have died.
They said: "We arrested one person and one vehicle was seized. According to initial findings, two people have died. Please continue to avoid the city centre."
The incident comes four years after a truck was deliberately driven into the Christmas market in Berlin, leaving 12 people dead and 56 others injured.