German gunman 'kills four in Karlsruhe eviction'

A body is taken from a building in Karlsruhe after five people died in a siege (4 July 2012)
Image caption After police stormed the fifth-floor flat, five bodies were found

A man has shot dead four people including his partner before killing himself in a siege in the German city of Karlsruhe, police say.

The 53-year-old, whose partner was said to be facing eviction, had barricaded himself in the flat with the hostages.

Among those who died were a bailiff who had gone to evict the couple as well as the flat's new owner and a locksmith. A social worker escaped unharmed.

Police said that two of the victims had their hands tied behind their backs.

The hostage-taking began when the bailiff and locksmith arrived at about 08:00 local time (06:00 GMT) on Wednesday morning at a block of flats in the city in south-west Germany. The new owner, who was aged 49, arrived shortly afterwards.

Almost an hour later, neighbours heard several shots ring out.

According to deputy police chief Roland Lay, the hostage-taker, armed with several guns and two hand grenades, shot the bailiff in the thigh and ordered the locksmith to tie the other hostages' hands.

The locksmith then "tried to grab the perpetrator's weapon but unfortunately failed" and was himself shot several times.

At this point, the social worker was allowed to leave and raised the alarm, the deputy police chief said.

'Thick smoke'

An area around the block in the Nordstadt area was sealed off and hundreds of police officers were deployed. A school and a kindergarten nearby were evacuated.

After smelling smoke, special forces eventually moved in. German media said that initially four bodies, including the gunman, were discovered in the flat on the top floor of the building. It then emerged that the body of a 55-year-old woman, believed to be the gunman's partner, had also been found.

The smoke was so thick in the flat that "you couldn't see your hand in front of your eyes", a police spokesman was quoted as saying.

"I am deeply shocked by the deaths of five people, including a bailiff working as a justice official for Karlsruhe district court," Baden-Wuerttemberg's Justice Minister Rainer Stickelberger said, according to Bild website. It was an "incomprehensible act", he added.

The gunman was not known to have any previous record of violence.

Officials have rejected the idea of greater protection for bailiffs.

"They don't wear any bulletproof vests or carry weapons. We reject the use of weapons," the head of Germany's bailiffs' union, Walter Gietmann, said.