Cologne mayor candidate stabbed in anti-refugee attack - police

BERLIN (Reuters) - An independent candidate running for mayor of the German city of Cologne was stabbed in the neck and severely wounded on Saturday in an attack that police said appeared to be motivated by her support for refugees.

Henriette Reker and an aide were both severely injured by the attacker, a 44-year-old man, while campaigning in the western German city, police said. Three other people were also wounded, though not seriously.

Norbert Wagner, head of the police criminal investigation unit in Cologne, said the attack on Reker was "targeted and deliberate".

"In his plea, he said that he committed this act out of xenophobic motivation," Wagner told a news conference.

"From our initial investigations, we have ascertained that he probably acted alone. So far, we have no knowledge of other people taking part in this sad act," Wagner added.

Cologne police chief Wolfgang Albers said Reker has been involved in supporting and helping to house refugees in the city.

"At the moment she is stable but not out of the woods yet," he added.

Germany, a favoured destination for migrants, expects 800,000 to a million new arrivals this year. Many Germans feel the country cannot cope with the record influx.

Police said the attacker stabbed Reker and her aide at around 9.00 a.m. (0700 GMT) at an information stand for the Christian Democrats (CDU), Chancellor Angela Merkel's party. The other three people were injured immediately afterwards.

Eyewitnesses said the attacker went straight for Reker.

"She had arrived here just a few minutes before... She was talking to two other party members when it happened," Bernd Petelkau, a local CDU official, said.

Reker is running as an independent but is supported by the CDU, the Free Democrats and the Greens.

Cologne is due to hold elections for mayor on Sunday.

(Reporting by Hans-Edzard Busemann and Reuters TV; Writing by Paul Carrel. Editing by Ros Russell)