A 17-year-old Afghan refugee who attacked four people with an axe on a German train had an Islamic State flag at his house, police said Tuesday shortly before the extremist group claimed him as one of its fighters.
German authorities said they had found the hand-painted IS flag among the belongings of the asylum-seeker, who seriously injured four members of a family of tourists from Hong Kong on his rampage. The assailant was killed by police as he tried to flee.
"The perpetrator of the stabbing attack in Germany was one of the fighters of the Islamic State," the IS-linked Amaq news agency said, in a claim later echoed on its radio station Al-Bayan.
The assault took place on a regional train near the southern city of Wuerzburg late Monday.
Two of the victims were critically hurt, said Joachim Herrmann, the interior minister of the state of Bavaria.
"We hope that those who were gravely injured make it," Herrmann told ZDF public television.
He later said that locals who knew the assailant, identified in media reports as Riaz A., described him as "calm and even-keeled" and a "devout Muslim who did not appear to be radical or a fanatic".
"According to the investigation thus far, there was no evidence on site to point to him belonging to the Islamist network," Herrmann said.
However, he said police had found a letter he apparently left for his father, who still lives in Afghanistan, in which he talked about the world\’s Muslims, saying they "must defend themselves".
Germany has thus far escaped the kind of large-scale jihadist attack seen in the southern French city of Nice last week, in which 31-year-old Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel used a truck to mow down 84 people. That attack was also claimed by IS without the assailant having any clear ties to the group.
The terrifying assault in Bavaria is likely to revive a heated national debate about integrating migrants and refugees after a record influx last year.
The assailant had arrived as an unaccompanied minor in Germany over a year ago and had been staying with a foster family in the region for the last two weeks, Herrmann said.
"We must determine what the motive was and to what extent he really belonged to the Islamist scene or self-radicalised very recently," Herrmann said, adding that the assailant had no criminal record in Germany.
The assault happened around 9:15 pm (1915 GMT) on the train, which runs between the town of Treuchtlingen and Wuerzburg in Bavaria.
An eyewitness told DPA news agency that the train, which had been carrying around 25 people, looked "like a slaughterhouse" with blood covering the floor.
Herrmann later said the teenager was shot when he attacked police with the axe while trying to escape the scene.
Germany has been spared major Islamist attacks but in May, a mentally unstable 27-year-old man wielding a knife killed one person and injured three others on another Bavarian regional train.
Early reports had suggested he had yelled "Allahu akbar" but police later said there was no evidence pointing to a religious motive. He is being held in a psychiatric hospital.
In February, a 15-year-old girl of Turkish origin stabbed a policeman in the neck with a kitchen knife at Hanover train station in what prosecutors later said was an IS-inspired attack.
And police in April arrested two 16-year-olds over an explosion that wounded three people at a Sikh temple, in what was believed to be an Islamist-motivated attack against an Indian wedding party in the western city of Essen.
Germany admitted nearly 1.1 million asylum-seekers last year, with Syrians the largest group followed by Afghans.
However the number of refugees arriving in Germany has fallen sharply as a result of the closure of the Balkans migration route and an EU deal with Turkey to stem the flow.
Bavaria is governed by the Christian Social Union (CSU), sister party to Chancellor Angela Merkel\’s conservative Christian Democrats, which has been loudly critical of Merkel\’s welcoming stance toward asylum seekers.
The split threatened the unity of the ruling coalition in Berlin and sent the government\’s approval ratings plunging.
Merkel\’s popularity has rebounded recently but the Bavaria attack is likely to stoke political tensions.
Herrmann however warned against tarring all asylum-seekers with the same brush.
"It is undisputed that he was a refugee and if he hadn\’t been there he wouldn\’t have committed this act. But I don\’t think that we should make blanket judgements in any way about refugees."