December 20, 2016 / 8:41 AM / 10 months ago

Zurich mosque gunman was Swiss, no Islamist link: police

Police stand outside an Islamic center in central Zurich, Switzerland December 19, 2016. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

ZURICH (Reuters) - A gunman who shot three worshippers in a Zurich mosque on Monday evening was a 24-year-old Swiss man with Ghanaian roots and no apparent links to Islamist radicalism, police said on Tuesday.

The suspect, whom they did not identify by name, is thought to have killed another man in Zurich on Sunday. He seems to have taken his own life shortly after the mosque shooting, whose motivation remains a mystery, police officials said.

“He is Swiss and we don’t know anything about the motives,” Christiane Lentjes Meili, head of criminal investigations for the Zurich cantonal police, told a news conference.

The gunman from the nearby town of Uster had stormed into the Islamic center near the main train station in Switzerland’s financial capital and opened fire on people praying, wounding three men, whose condition was said to be improving on Tuesday.

His body was found soon afterwards around 300 meters (yards) away. He appears to have shot himself, police said.

Investigators were still puzzling over what set off the deadly chain of events. The man - whose last run-in with the law was as a bike thief seven years ago - had quit his job in a shop on Friday.

There were indications that the man had taken an interest in occult sciences, Lentjes Meili said, adding it was not clear at this stage whether he was mentally ill.

Two days later he is suspected of killing a man with South American roots he seems to have been acquainted with and leaving the body in a playground in Zurich.

The mayhem continued when he entered the mosque after dusk on Monday, armed with a gun for which he had a permit.

“We are still waiting to see if that person was targeting us or if it was a coincidence that brought him to us. Everything is open,” Saad Subaan from the Zurich Islamic Community Foundation told reporters after the media conference.

The victims are aged 30, 35 and 56. Two of them were seriously injured in the attack, a rare case of gun violence in Switzerland, while a third sustained less severe injuries.

“All Muslims are of course shocked that people praying came under fire,” Onder Gunes, spokesman for the Federation of Islamic Organizations in Switzerland, said before the shooter’s background became known.

“This would be equally shocking if done by a Muslim, Christians, Hindus or any other religious group,” he said, adding: “We all have to stand together for peace. This cannot be allowed to escalate.”

Switzerland, where two-thirds of the 8.3 million population identify as Christian, has been wrestling with the role of Islam as its Muslim population has risen to 5 percent. In 2009, a nationwide vote backed a constitutional ban on new minarets.

Additional reporting by Angelika Gruber and Michael Shields; Editing by Tom Heneghan

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