The German security services are reportedly treating the 50-year-old man's intentional ramming into pedestrians in Bottrop and Essen as an act of terrorism, media reported.
The driver then headed to neighbouring Essen, where he attempted to hit people at a bus stop and was arrested by police.
“The man had the clear intention to kill foreigners”, dpa quoted the top security official in North Rhine-Westphalia state, Herbert Reul, as saying. His victims included Syrian and Afghan nationals.
A joint statement by the Essen prosecutor's office and police of the cities of Recklinghausen and Muenster said that the suspect was making "anti-foreigner comments" during detention, and local police have information that the attacker could have some mental issues.
While in the United States, such attacks are commonly categorised as hate crimes and perpetrators are subject to additional penalties, in Germany special prosecution of xenophobia and racism-motivated crime was introduced much later due to the arbitrary nature of determining motivation.
According to CNN, in 2016 alone there were over 420 physical attacks on asylum seekers and refugees in Germany and nearly 750 related acts of arson and property damage. Germany's Interior Ministry was quoted as saying that 560 asylum seekers and refugees were injured in the 2016 attacks, 43 children among them.