A general view shows the wood processing plant of Kronospan following a shooting in Menznau near Lucerne February 27, 2013. Three people, including the suspected assailant, have been killed in a shooting at a factory near the Swiss city of Lucerne, police said on Wednesday. Seven others were injured in the attack which happened just after 9 a.m. (0800 GMT) at a wood processing company in the town of Menznau, west of Lucerne, the police said in a statement. REUTERS/Michael Buholzer

Menznau, Switzerland - A 42-year-old employee killed two workmates and wounded seven when he opened fire in a Swiss factory Wednesday, rocking the small community where the plant is located.

Police said that the gunman, who also died, had worked for more than 10 years at the Kronospan wood panel plant in Menznau, near Lucerne in central Switzerland.

He had no record of making trouble, police and factory officials said, but workmates quoted by Swiss media said he may have been suffering from mental problems since last year.

The man, who was not identified by name, reportedly launched his assault with a handgun at around 9:00 am (0800 GMT) in the plant's canteen.

Police said that he appeared to have aimed deliberately at his victims, rather than spraying shots at random.

Of the seven wounded, six were in a serious condition.

Three helicopters from the Swiss emergency service REGA evacuated four of the wounded to neighbouring hospitals, a spokesman told AFP.

Police would not say how the shooter died and added they were waiting for the results of an autopsy.

“We still don't know what his motives were,” Lucerne's police chief Daniel Bussmann told reporters.

Some Swiss media claimed the gunman had fallen out with his employers, with local newspaper Willisauerer Bote noting that Kronospan had last week announced it was cutting production.

Owned by Austrian group Kronospan, the factory is the top employer in Menznau, giving jobs to about 400 people in the community of almost 2 600.

Kronospan underlined that the production cutback was the result of a wood shortage due to bad weather, and that there had been no threat to jobs.

“We said on several occasions that there would be no layoffs,” company director Mauro Capozzo told reporters.

Capozzo said the gunman was known as a very calm individual. “We can't understand what happened,” he said.

Board member Urs Fluder said the plant had been left reeling.

“We're all in shock. We'll do everything we can to help the victims' loved ones and support them financially,” he said.

“This is a tragedy,” Menznau's mayor, Adrian Duss, told AFP.

The national daily Blick said the gunman was a family man who worked as a machine operator at the plant.

The regional newspaper Luzerner Zeitung quoted an unnamed colleague as saying that the man's behaviour over recent months suggested he was having mental problems.

“He changed last year. He talked to himself, or to people who weren't there. And he'd change the subject completely in mid-conversation, so you could barely talk to him any more,” the colleague said.

The colleague said that the gunman had in the past practised kickboxing, but underlined that he had never shown any aggression.

“He was weird, but we'd never have thought it would come to this,” he added.

Switzerland has a longstanding tradition of gun ownership, rooted in the fact that the bulk of its military are reservists, rather than professionals.

The country ranks third in the world for the number of guns per inhabitant, after the United States and Yemen.

High-profile shootings, albeit rare, have sparked debate in Switzerland about gun control.

While weapons-holders must declare their arms to their local authorities, there is no national register and many guns are believed to be off the official radar.

On January 2, a 33-year-old drifter wielding two weapons killed three women and wounded two men in the village of Daillon in southern Switzerland.

He was arrested after himself being wounded by police.

The biggest gun massacre in recent Swiss history occurred in September 2001 in the central city of Zug, claiming 15 lives including that of the shooter.

A local man with a history of legal clashes with the authorities dressed in a fake police uniform attacked the regional parliament armed with several weapons including an assault rifle. - Sapa-AFP