NEWS
01/01/2019 10:12 EST | Updated 01/02/2019 09:31 EST

New Year's Day Attacks: Vehicles Driven Into Crowds In Tokyo, Bottrop

At least 12 people were injured in the two attacks.

Yuta Omori/Kyodo News via AP
Police and firefighters inspect around the site of a car attack near Takeshita Street in Tokyo, early Tuesday.

TOKYO and BERLIN — Police in both Japan and Germany are investigating after attackers drove vehicles into crowds of people gathered for New Year's Day festivities. The incidents do not appear to be linked.

In downtown Tokyo, a minivan slammed into pedestrians early Tuesday on a street where people had gathered, injuring eight people, police said.

The suspect, 21, Kazuhiro Kusakabe, was arrested and being questioned, Tokyo Metropolitan Police said on customary condition of anonymity.

He is suspected of intentionally trying to kill people by driving the small vehicle through the street. NHK TV footage showed a small van with the entire front end smashed and officers and ambulance workers rushing to the scene.

ASSOCIATED PRESS
A car is inspected by police after it injured several pedestrians on Takeshita Street in Tokyo, early Tuesday.

A ninth person was injured after Kusakabe got out of the car and punched him, police said. His condition was not immediately known.

A large tank filled with kerosene was found in the car, police said. The suspect appeared to have planned to set his car on fire, Mainichi newspaper and other Japanese media reported. Police declined to comment on the reports, saying such possible motives were still under investigation.

The crash occurred early Tuesday on Takeshita Dori, a road well known to tourists and pop culture and fashion fans that runs right by Meiji Shrine in Harajuku, Shibuya ward.

Every New Year's Eve, the train line that includes Harajuku station runs all night, for people welcoming the new year with a shrine visit.

2nd attack in Germany

In Germany, a man was arrested after ploughing his car into a crowd of people on the same day, injuring at least four in what appears to have been an intentional attack directed at foreigners, police said.

The 50-year-old driver of a silver Mercedes first attempted to hit a group of people in the western city of Bottrop shortly after midnight, but the pedestrians were able to jump out of the way, Muenster police said.

The man, who wasn't named, then drove into the centre of Bottrop where he slammed into a crowd. Police said those hit by the car included Syrian and Afghan citizens, and some were seriously injured.

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Police block a road in Bottrop, Germany on Tuesday.

The driver then sped off toward the nearby city of Essen, where he tried and failed to hit people waiting at a bus stop before being arrested by police on suspicion of attempted homicide.

Authorities said the driver made anti-foreigner comments during his arrest.

"Investigating authorities are currently working on the assumption that this was a targeted attack, possibly motivated by the anti-foreigner views of the driver," police said, adding that there were indications the suspect suffered from mental illness.

Angela Luettmann, a spokeswoman for Muenster police, couldn't immediately confirm whether the driver was German but said he came from Essen.

History of vehicle attacks

In April, a German man drove a van into a crowd in Muenster, killing four people and injuring dozens. The driver, who had sought psychological help in the weeks preceding the attack, then killed himself.

On Dec. 19, 2016, a Tunisian man ploughed a truck into a busy Christmas market in Berlin, killing 12 people. The attack was later claimed by the Islamic State group. The driver, who fled the scene, was later killed in a shootout with police in Italy.

Japan, on the other hand, is a relatively crime free nation with strict gun-control laws. In 2008, a man drove his car into a crowd in the popular Akihabara electronic-shopping district, got off and went on a stabbing spree with a knife. Seven people were killed.