Police are investigating the possibility that the bomb’s intended target was not the driver, Mesut T. - who died shortly after the explosion and had Turkish roots - but a Russian citizen whose identity documents they found in the car, Bild reports on information from investigators.
The blast occurred during peak-hour traffic on Bismarckstrasse, within sight of the Victory Column monument in west Berlin, and police were quick to suggest a link to organized crime.
Mesut T. was already known to police for convictions on drug and gambling charges, although there is no evidence he had committed a crime in Germany since 2008.
Bild reports that the bomb might have been an act of revenge for a drug deal gone wrong at the end of 2015.
Either Mesut T. or his accomplice is said to have shot at the Russian underworld figures who were involved in the deal and badly injured one of them.
"We are working on the assumption it was a form of payback," an investigator told the tabloid.
"We’re trying to put the pieces together to build up the whole picture," the police officer added.
But one Berlin politician, Christopher Lauer, expressed frustration that police had immediately jumped to the conclusion that the crime was connected to organized criminality.
"If a Turkish citizen is the victim of a car bomb in Germany, I expect investigations in all directions," Lauer told Berlin daily Tagesspiegel.
"For ten years police told us that the NSU murders were also organized crime."
The NSU were a neo-Nazi cell that murdered ten people for apparent racial reasons between 2000 and 2007. The last living member is currently on trial.
“What criminals from the mafia would have an interest in attracting the attention of police and the media by setting off a car bomb?”, the independent politician asked.
At a press conference on Wednesday morning, police confirmed that the victim died through loss of blood, with his legs being severely injured by the blast, Tagesspiegel reports.
Justice spokesman Martin Steltner would not comment on the type of explosive device used.
“Investigations into the ignition device are ongoing,” he said.
“We are trying to reconstruct the last hours in the victim’s life,” Steltner added.
Bild, though, claims there are indications the bomb was set off with a mobile device.
“We know the Russian and Czech mafias are capable of that,” their source told them.
“These groups know exactly how much explosive to use to make sure that the whole street doesn’t get taken out in collateral damage,” the investigator said.