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KARLSRUHE, Germany - An unemployed gunman trying to resist eviction shot dead four people in a hostage siege in a flat in southwestern Germany on Wednesday before killing himself, police said.
Police stormed the apartment in the city of Karlsruhe when they smelled burning several hours after the drama began, and found five bodies including that of the 53-year-old hostage-taker.
Prosecutors said the victims, who included a bailiff, a locksmith, the new flat owner as well as the female partner of the gunman who was living in the flat, were "basically executed".
Police said the man, described as unemployed with no police record of violence, was armed with two pistols, two other guns and a hand grenade when he barricaded himself in the flat with his hostages.
Police chief Hildegard Gerecke told a news conference that security forces had faced a "very difficult, highly-complex" situation.
"The forces did everything, knowing that there was a considerable danger, to of course do what was possible to save the lives of the hostages which, unfortunately, was no longer possible," she told reporters.
The gunman's partner had owned the apartment but fallen behind on paying maintenance fees and the home had been auctioned off.
The new owner ordered the couple evicted, prompting the bailiff, the locksmith and a social worker who planned to advise the pair on their options to go to the home early Wednesday.
The gunman, who was not named by the authorities, had let the social worker go who contacted police.
The authorities initially spoke of three or four dead but discovered the body of a fifth victim, the woman, during a search, a spokesman said.
Residents of the building had raised the alarm with police at around 9:00 a.m. (0700 GMT) when shots were heard from the home of the hostage-taker who was about to be evicted.
The fifth-floor flat was at the top of an apartment building in a leafy, middle-class neighborhood, a few kilometers (miles) north of the city center.
About 200 police officers were sent to the scene including about 40 members of elite police units, and the area was sealed off.
Two schools and kindergartens are located nearby and several apartment blocks were evacuated, according to the local daily Badische Zeitung.
Justice minister of Baden-Wuerttemberg state Rainer Stickelberger said he was "deeply distressed". "We must do everything we can to shed light on the terrible crime as quickly as possible," he said.
German gun laws were tightened after two school massacres in the eastern city of Erfurt in April 2002 and in the southwestern town of Winnenden in March 2009, both of which were also carried out with legal weapons.
Several evictions in Germany have ended violently in recent years.
In December, a 68-year-old man shot the new owner of the apartment building he had been forced to put up for auction in Rastatt, also in Baden-Wuerttemberg.
In May 2010, a 62-year-old man caused a gas explosion in a house in central Thuringia state under threat of eviction.
After switching on the gas and lighting candles he and his wife tried to commit suicide by taking sleeping pills. While his wife died in the fire, the man ran to warn neighbours and left the building.