A number of people were killed and injured in a shooting at a Jehovah’s Witness meeting hall in Germany’s northern Hamburg city late on Thursday.
Police say the gunman acted alone, and is thought to be dead. It is unclear if the attacker is among the six or seven fatalities reported by German media.
As yet, “there is no reliable information on the motive”, police say.
The gunman is a former member of the religious community aged between 30 and 40, reports Der Spiegel magazine.
Police say they found a dead person at the scene who they believe may have been the perpetrator and investigations are continuing.
They were called at about 21:15 local time (20:15 GMT) on Thursday, to reports that shots had been fired in the building on Deelböge street, Gross Borstel district, police spokesman Holger Vehren said.
Officers who went in found people who “may have been seriously injured by firearms, some of them fatally”, he said.
“The officers also heard a shot from the upper part of the building and went upstairs, where they also found a person. So far we have no indications that any perpetrators fled.”
He said police had not yet identified the victims and work at the crime scene continued.
“All we know is that several people have died here, several people have been injured, they have been taken to hospitals,” Mr Vehren said.
Forensic experts work at the scene of the shooting in Hamburg, Germany A member of a bomb disposal unit works inside a Jehovah’s Witness meeting hall in Hamburg, Germany
The reasons behind the shooting were “still completely unclear”.
On Friday morning, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz described the shooting as a “brutal act of violence”, saying his thoughts were with the victims and their relatives.
In a statement, the Jehovah’s Witness community in Germany said it was “deeply saddened by the horrific attack on its members at the Kingdom Hall in Hamburg after a religious service”.
Hamburg’s Mayor Peter Tschentscher has spoken of his shock and offered his condolences to the families of the victims.
Forensic experts have been working at the scene through the night. They can still be seen in their white suits inside the brightly lit interior of the meeting house.
It is thought people had gathered, possibly for a Bible study, when the shooting began at around 21:00 local time.
Lara Bauch, a 23-year-old student who lives nearby, told the DPA news agency that “there were about four bursts of gunfire – several shots were fired in each burst – with gaps lasting roughly 20 seconds to a minute”.
She said that from her window she could see a person frantically running from the ground floor to the first floor. “The man was wearing dark clothing and moving fast,” she added.
An alert was sent on the federal warning app, NINAwarn, at about 21:00 local time telling locals that “one or more unknown perpetrators shot at people in a church”.
Local residents were told not to leave their homes amid the ongoing police operation.
Footage showed police escorting people out of the meeting hall, some to ambulances.
Hamburg’s Interior Minister Andy Grote said on Twitter that police special forces and a large number of officers had been deployed to the scene.
Police have appealed to the public not to share assumptions or to spread rumours.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are members of a Christian-based religious movement.
The denomination was founded in the US towards the end of the 19th Century, under the leadership of Charles Taze Russell. The headquarters of the movement is in New York.