Berlin cars targeted by arsonist for third night running

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Arsonists torched cars in Berlin for the third night running as part of a wave of attacks that police suggested Thursday were more likely due to vandals rather than politically-motivated activists.

Nine cars, including two BMWs and an Audi, were set on fire overnight in the upscale district of Charlottenburg, in the west of the city, police said Thursday.

This followed similar attacks on the two previous nights which resulted in 26 cars going up in flames and police offering a 5,000-euro ($7,200) reward for information leading to the arrest of the arsonists.

The total number of cars torched this year stands at 147, 63 of them this month alone.

"We don't rightly know the reason for it," said police chief inspector Guido Busch.

"But we believe it is mostly the work of a single person, or a single group of people, and that it is vandalism with no political motive," he added.

Ehrhart Koerting, the Berlin city government official in charge of police matters, told the Berliner Zeitung newspaper that, overall, half the cases of arson attacks on cars in the city are believed to be carried out by left-wing extremists, while the rest are copy-cat attacks and insurance scams.

But "there are clues suggesting the latest attacks are not politically-motivated," he added.

Many but not all of the cars torched have been luxury vehicles.

Left-wingers, in the past, have set fire to expensive cars in parts of the capital which are in the throes of gentrification, but such attacks tend to take place around May 1 when protest groups traditionally gather for demonstrations.

And in many cases extreme-left splinter groups claim responsibility for these attacks, something which has not happened this time around.

Many of the most recent attacks have been carried out with barbecue starter-packs placed under cars, next to a tyre.

Some 100 policemen are out every night, along with a helicopter equipped with a thermal vision camera, to track down the culprits, Busch said.

But in Berlin, a city of 3.5 million people and of one million cars parked along more than 5,000 kilometers (3,100 miles) of streets, surveillance is difficult.

© 2011 AFP

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