A policeman stands near a cinema in Viernheim, Germany, after an attemped hostage-taking. The suspect was shot and killed by police. (Daniel Roland/AFP/Getty Images)

Police in southwestern Germany fatally shot a masked assailant who entered a movie theater on Thursday and tried to take hostages.

The suspect’s motive was not immediately clear, but authorities were initially investigating the incident in the town of Viernheim as a possible criminal act rather than one linked to terrorism. Speaking about the unnamed assailant, police spokesman Bernd Hochstädter said, “There is no indication of a terrorist or Islamist background.” But, he added, authorities were not ruling anything out.

Authorities said police received an emergency call around 2:45 p.m. local time and responded to reports that a masked man carrying a rifle had entered the multiplex. It was not clear whether the weapon was real or nonlethal, or whether the man was carrying live ammunition.

Peter Beuth, the interior minister for the state of Hesse, where the town is located, told a session of the local legislature that witnesses had described the man as seeming “confused.”

There were conflicting reports on whether others had been injured. Hochstädter dismissed early reports, widely circulated in the German media, that at least 25 people had suffered injuries related to “tear gas.” He said police were unaware of any notable injuries.

Police have reportedly shot dead a gunman at a cinema complex in the small western German town of Viernheim, near Frankfurt, on Thursday. Police are saying that no one was injured by the gunman. (Reuters)

Local authorities remained at the scene Thursday evening, and the area surrounding the movie theater was cordoned off.

A witness, Mareike Merseburger, described the chaos to the local Hessischer Rundfunk newspaper. “People ran out” of the theater, she said. “The police told people on the scene that a rampage was occurring.”