Saturday, March 14, 2009

Two hoaxers arrested after German massacre

Two new hoax Internet warnings of school shootings resulted in arrests on Friday in Germany and France, two days after a horrific massacre of 15 people near Stuttgart by a teenage gunman.
The latest hoaxes came after it was separately revealed that the perpetrator of Wednesday's bloodbath, 17-year-old Tim Kretschmer , had not warned of his intentions on the Internet, contrary to what investigators had previously been led to believe.
The arrests take to three the number of hoaxers picked up by European police over threats of copycat attacks made over the Internet. Swedish police arrested a teenager there on Thursday.
Those behind the hoax regional officials initially believed was a chilling warning by Kretschmer have yet to be discovered.

German police in Lower Saxony, hundreds of kilometres (miles) from the scene of Wednesday's rampage, said they arrested a 21-year-old man after he said in a chat room that he would carry out a similar crime.

"I have a gun and I'm going to kill everybody," read the chat-room message, which was alerted to police by a 16-year-old schoolboy in Wuerzburg.

The man, who has not been named and who faces up to three years in jail or a fine, said that it was meant "as a joke."

French police dealt with a similar situation, taking into custody an 18-year-old youth after he too posted a "joke" website warning of a shooting spree at a school in the Paris suburbs.

The youth arrested in France said he had posted the warning on Thursday as a joke, police said, adding that no weapons were found at his home. "In Raincy (high school) there will be blood -- I have weapons," this message read.

On Thursday, Swedish police detained a 17-year-old boy who was suspected of posting a picture of himself posing with a weapon on an Internet forum, along with a threatening message against a high school.

Also on Friday, a school at Ilsfed, near the scene of Wednesday's killing, was searched by police after another Internet threat but it turned out to be a false alert, local police spokesman Roberto Monaci told AFP.

Dressed in black combat gear and armed with a gun taken from his father's bedroom, Kretschmer went on the rampage starting at his old school in the town of Winnenden .

He shot dead eight girls, one boy and three female teachers. He then killed a passer-by outside a psychiatric clinic where he had been due to receive treatment, hijacked a car and shot two others at a car dealership.

By this time hundreds of armed commandos were on his trail, some in helicopters, and Kretschmer died in a shootout with police around 30 kilometres (20 miles) from the school. Police believe he shot himself.

The interior minister of the state where this took place said on Friday that the 17-year-old -- described as unremarkable and reserved if socially awkward and suffering from depression -- had announced his intentions on the Internet.

But on Friday the minister, Heribert Rech, admitted that he had been duped.

"Some crazy person obviously put out this dreadful false message," Rech was quoted as saying by the Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily. "It must have been made up afterwards."

Experts said that the chat never took place. Instead a screen shot of a faked conversation was placed on the website, which said that the reference number was that of a completely unrelated dialogue.

"These days it is incredibly easy to manipulate data in chat rooms," Sebastian Clausz, a computer scientist from Dresden's Technical University told AFP.

After analysing Kretschmer's computer, on which he had spent hours playing "shoot-em-up" video games, a spokesman for local police said no trace had been found of the message.

The website said the warning was "a forgery."

The picturesque town near Stuttgart was still in a state of shock on Friday, with people laying flowers and candles outside the Albertville secondary school, which remained closed.

For the second evening in a row, Winnenden's church was overflowing, with the service transmitted outside on specially-erected screens.

Chancellor Angela Merkel will attend a memorial service on March 21 in the town, her spokesman said on Friday.

Two policemen injured in Wednesday's car park shootout were still in hospital, as were five pupils from the school, police said. Some the pupils had gunshot wounds and others had broken bones after jumping out of windows.

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