May 27, 2006

Teen Attacks Berlin Pedestrians; 25 Hurt


BERLIN - A knife-wielding man went on a rampage and attacked pedestrians as they left a Berlin celebration early Saturday, wounding 25 people, four seriously, police said.

The 17-year-old suspected attacker, a German native of Berlin's working-class Neukoelln district, was arrested, police spokesman Bernhard Schodrowski told The Associated Press. None of the injured are in life-threatening condition, Schodrowski said.

The teen had mingled with crowds a couple of hours after a sound and light show inaugurating Berlin's new central rail station in the heart of the capital when he began to randomly attack people. Eleven ambulances were called to the scene, Schodrowski said.

The attack came amid a rash of racially motivated crimes, including several in Berlin, that have raised concern about security two weeks before Germany hosts the soccer World Cup.

No motive for the attack was known, Schodrowski said, although the teen was known to police for previous acts of violence. It was not clear if the he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, Schodrowski said.

According to ARD television panic broke out among the crowd in the narrow residential street where the attack occurred and 100 police officers were called to the scene to bring things under control.

Several hundred thousand onlookers had packed the city center to watch the festive inaugurating of the city's new main train station, touted as the largest in Europe and the final major construction project for the German capital's government sector.

Chancellor Angela Merkel attended the opening ceremonies several hours before the attack and praised the new, light-flooded station as a symbolic bridge between Germany's formerly divided east and west.

A special high-speed express train became the first to enter the station, kicking off the opening event.

"It is a modern, open building, symbolic for Berlin and for Germany," said Merkel. The station straddles the path of the former Berlin Wall, that divided the city during the Cold War.

The multilayered Hauptbahnhof, or main station - complete with shopping mall - sits atop a new north-south tunnel through Berlin, leading national railway Deutsche Bahn to boast that "Europe is growing together here."

Construction took eight years and has cost an estimated $1 billion. Some 300,000 passengers a day are expected to use the station's 14 platforms.

The station is situated close to the Reichstag parliament building and the new chancellery.

It opens for regular service Sunday less than two weeks before the soccer World Cup begins.

Authorities earlier reported a surge of attacks in the east part of the country, underlining concern over hate crimes two weeks before the start of the World Cup, the world's largest sporting event. The first round begins June 9 and runs through the 23rd.