Special police operate outside the Cologne, western Germany, train station Monday, Oct. 15, 2018. Cologne police closed parts of the western German city’s main train station after a man took a woman hostage in a pharmacy inside. (Oliver Berg/dpa via AP)

Police call for witnesses to help in Cologne hostage probe

October 16, 2018 - 2:56 am

BERLIN (AP) — Cologne police are investigating whether Islamic extremism was the motivation behind a bloody hostage-taking at the city's main train station, and called Tuesday on witnesses to upload any photos of videos from the scene to aid their probe.

Authorities tweeted a link to a website for people to contribute images from Monday's incident, in which a man lit a gasoline bomb at a restaurant inside the station that injured two people. He then held a woman hostage inside a pharmacy for two hours.

The suspect was critically injured when police stormed the pharmacy and he later received CPR. He was in intensive care at a Cologne hospital on Tuesday morning, police spokeswoman Annemarie Schott told The Associated Press.

At a press conference Monday night, police told reporters that the suspect was likely a 55-year-old Syrian who came to Germany in 2016 and has a criminal record. Citing witnesses, police said he claimed during the incident that he was a member of the extremist Islamic State group.

Police said a 14-year-old girl suffered burns and another person inhaled smoke when the man lit the gasoline bomb inside the restaurant early Monday afternoon. When the sprinkler system went off at the restaurant, he moved to the train station's pharmacy where he held a woman for about two hours.

The man threatened the woman, possibly with setting her on fire, when police stormed the pharmacy. In the pharmacy's back room police found gas canisters like the type used for camp stoves, and fire starters. He was also in possession of what appeared to be a firearm, but police said they were not immediately sure whether it was a fake.

The hostage taker was shot by police during the incident. The hostage and the teenage girl who suffered burns were taken to a hospital for treatment, while the person who inhaled smoke was treated at the scene.

Schott, the police spokeswoman, said she did not have any update on their condition Tuesday.

She said several buildings had been searched and evidence was being secured in connection with Monday's events, but she wouldn't give any further details, citing the ongoing investigation.

Traffic at the train station in downtown Cologne was back to normal on Tuesday, after being canceled for several hours on Monday.

More than one million migrants, mostly Muslims from war-torn countries like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, have entered Germany since 2015, leading to a backlash in parts of the country and the rise of the far-right Alternative for Germany party, which has aggressively campaigned against the migrants,

The incident again brings a focus on Cologne, which has seen several violent incidents relating to migrants in recent years. That includes a suspected plot by a Tunisian man to carry out an attack in Germany using the deadly toxin ricin earlier this year.

On New Year's Eve in 2015, festivities in Cologne were overshadowed when hundreds of women complained of being groped and robbed, mostly by groups of migrants. The news prompted questions of whether the country's open-door attitude at the time needed to change.

Since early 2016, migration has gone down significantly, thanks to a number of European Union and national measures.

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