Suspect detained over Darmstadt university ‘poison attack’

Seven months after a poisoning at a German university left several people needing medical attention, criminal justice authorities said Thursday they had detained a troubled female student now facing charges of attempted murder.

A building at TU Darmstadt after the poisoning attack last year.
A building at TU Darmstadt after the poisoning attack last year. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Frank Rumpenhorst

The 32-year-old suspect was immediately placed in psychiatric care and may not be criminally culpable due to her mental state, police and prosecutors in the western city of Darmstadt, near Frankfurt, said in a joint statement.

Investigators probing the case from last August at the city’s Technical University (TU Darmstadt) said that attention turned to the woman based on forensic traces left at the scene of the crime and accounts from more than 1,000 witnesses.

“The findings indicate that the suspect felt persecuted by the affected staff,” they said.

Police had raced to the campus when seven people in one building reported “serious health problems including symptoms of poisoning” after consuming food or drink to which a “harmful substance” had been introduced.

READ ALSO: Students in Darmstadt on high alert after campus drinks poisoned

Two of the victims had to be taken to a hospital in nearby Frankfurt while others were treated at the scene.

A 30-year-old was briefly in a critical condition and his skin reportedly turned blue in what police said was an effect of the toxin.

Milk and water containers were among the items apparently spiked the weekend before with a chemical, which police described as having a noticeably “pungent smell”.

The affected building, part of the Department of Materials- and Geosciences, was cordoned off and foodstuffs on site taken away for investigation in what the university described as a “poison attack”.

Several poisoning incidents in Germany have made headlines in recent years.

In December 2019, five newborn babies were poisoned with morphine, but a nurse who was initially arrested for the crime was subsequently released.

The babies, aged between one day and five weeks at the time, all survived the attempted poisoning. No one has been charged over the case.

A German court in 2019 sentenced Klaus O. to life in prison for spiking his colleagues’ sandwiches with a poisonous powder containing lead, mercury and cadmium compounds.

He was caught red-handed in 2018 trying to poison other colleagues.

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German police foil teenage school ‘Nazi attack’

German investigators said Thursday they foiled a school bomb attack, as they arrested a 16-year-old who is suspected to have been planning a "Nazi terror attack".

German police foil teenage school 'Nazi attack'

“The police prevented a nightmare,” said Herbert Reul, interior minister of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) state.

Police in the city of Essen had stormed the teen’s room overnight, taking him into custody and uncovering 16 “pipe bombs”, as well as anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim material.

Some of the pipe bombs found contained nails, but officers did not find any detonators, Reul said.

There are “indications suggesting the young man has serious psychiatric problems and suicidal thoughts,” said Reul.

Material found so far in the suspect’s room include his own writing which constituted “a call for urgent help by a desperate young man.”

The suspect was allegedly planning to target his current school or another where he studied previously.

“All democrats have a common task to fight against racism, brutalisation and hate,” said NRW’s deputy premier Joachim Stamp, as he thanked police for “preventing a suspected Nazi terror attack”.

The suspect is being questioned while investigators continue to comb his home for evidence.

Investigators believe that he was acting alone.

They had been tipped off by another teen who informed them that the young man “wanted to place bombs in his school”, located about 800 metres from his home.

The school, as well as another institution, were closed on Thursday as investigators undertook fingertip searches as the locations to ensure that no bombs had been placed on site.

‘Neo-Nazi networks’ 

Germany has been rocked by several far-right assaults in recent years, sparking accusations that the government was not doing enough to stamp out neo-Nazi violence.

In February 2020 a far-right extremist shot dead 10 people and wounded five others in the central German city of Hanau.

Large amounts of material championing conspiracy theories and far-right ideology were subsequently found in the gunman’s apartment.

And in 2019, two people were killed after a neo-Nazi tried to storm a synagogue in Halle on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur.

Germany’s centre-left-led government under Chancellor Olaf Scholz took office in December pledging a decisive fight against far-right militants and investigators in April carried out country-wide raids against “neo-Nazi networks”, arresting four suspects.

The suspects targeted in the raids were believed to belong to the far-right martial arts group Knockout 51, the banned Combat 18 group named after theorder in the alphabet of Adolf Hitler’s initials, US-based Atomwaffen (Atomic) Division or the online propaganda group Sonderkommando 1418.

German authorities were also battling to clean extremists from within their ranks. Last year, the state of Hesse said it was dissolving Frankfurt’s elite police force after several officers were accused of participating in far-right online chats and swapping neo-Nazi symbols.