Berlin police arrest man who burnt more than 100 cars

BERLIN Mon Oct 24, 2011 5:48am EDT

A view shows the charred felloe of a burnt car in the yard of a car retailer in the Schmoeckwitz district of Berlin August 19, 2011.  REUTERS/Thomas Peter

A view shows the charred felloe of a burnt car in the yard of a car retailer in the Schmoeckwitz district of Berlin August 19, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Thomas Peter

BERLIN (Reuters) - A man who set fire to more than 100 cars in Berlin, a wave of attacks blamed by some on political extremists, was motivated by envy and frustration, police who arrested him said on Sunday.

The 27-year-old told police that being jobless and in debt led him to set 67 luxury cars alight in one three-month run.

Those attacks, aimed mostly at luxury cars such as Audi, BMW and Mercedes, set alight 35 more cars parked nearby. The near-nightly attacks, often started by slow-burning barbecue fire lighters, had baffled police and left them looking inept in the midst of a mayoral election.

"This is a sensational triumph," said Berlin state crime office LKA.L director Christian Steiof. A second police official told a media conference that the man confessed to setting 67 cars on fire since June in Germany's poorest big city.

"He wasn't motivated by politics but rather social envy," said Oliver Stepien, a senior police official. "He said in essence: 'I've got debts, my life stinks and others with fancy cars are better off and they deserve this'."

Luxury cars have been set on fire in small numbers in Berlin for many years, especially in districts that once had low rents because of their then-unattractive proximity to the Berlin Wall.

Car arson suddenly soared this year, with up to a dozen vehicles set on fire on some nights. Berlin police turned to federal authorities for help, using high-tech equipment and helicopters with thermal image cameras.

Up to 500 police were deployed on the streets at night to look for suspects and a special 150-person task force was set up. More than 470 cars have been set on fire this year and police are searching for other suspects. They believe perhaps a third have been politically motivated.

"It might have been the case in 2009 that some people in Berlin had some understanding for the fire attacks as some sort of protest," Berlin's Interior Minister Ehrhart Koerting told Reuters recently. "But I don't think anyone has that any more."

(Editing by Louise Ireland)

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