(Bloomberg) — Chancellor Angela Merkel vowed decisive action to combat racism after 11 people were killed in shootings on Wednesday night in a town near Frankfurt in what she said appeared to be a right-wing extremist attack by a lone gunman.
The slayings in Hanau prompted immediate soul searching in a nation gripped by concerns about the rise of the far-right, which is upending the traditional political order in Europe’s biggest economy and disrupting the final stages of Merkel’s four-term chancellorship.
If the shooter’s motive is confirmed, it would be the third prominent assault by the extreme right in less than a year after a synagogue attack in eastern Germany in October and the murder of a regional lawmaker from Merkel’s party last June.
“We will work against those who try to divide us among Germany with all possible strength and decisiveness,” a grim-faced Merkel said in a brief statement in Berlin. “Racism is poison, hate is poison, and this poison exists in our society, and is at fault for far too many crimes.”
Nine people, who authorities said all had a “migration background,” were killed at two different bars in Hanau, before the suspected perpetrator and his mother was found dead at a nearby home. Six more people were injured, one seriously. The suspect is a 43-year-old German national from Hanau, according to Peter Beuth, interior minister in the regional Hesse government.
Bild newspaper identified him as Tobias R. and published details from what it said was his manifesto. In the 24-page document, he calls for the “complete destruction” of around 20 nations, including India, Turkey, and Israel, the paper said. He refers to the “racial purity” of Germans, rails against “foreigner criminality” and claims to be under surveillance by a secret intelligence service.
The federal prosecutor is treating the case as a suspected terror attack, Beuth said, adding that the gunman was not previously known to authorities and ran a website that pointed to a “xenophobic motive.”
“At the moment, there is much to indicate that the assailant acted based on right-wing extremist, racist motives, out of hate for people of different descent, different faiths, and different appearances,” Merkel said.
The initial shots were fired at the “Midnight” shisha bar at the Heumarkt in the town center at around 10 p.m. local time, local media reported. After entering the bar’s smoking area, the shooter fired wildly at guests, killing five.
Many people were out watching the Champions League soccer match between German club RB Leipzig and English rivals Tottenham Hotspur, a local bar owner told Bloomberg.
The next incident was around 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) away at the “Arena Bar & Cafe” in the Kesselstadt neighborhood. The corpses of the suspected shooter and his mother were later found in a nearby apartment after police tracked his car.
The attack comes at an extremely delicate juncture in German politics, with Merkel’s grip on power weakened ahead of her retirement by September 2021 at the latest. She took an accepting stance on refugees at the height of the Syria crisis that has come at a price.
For the last two weeks, the country has been in crisis after Merkel’s party aligned with the far-right Alternative for Germany in a vote for premier in an eastern German state. The fallout from that led to the resignation of Merkel’s heir apparent from her post as party leader and a chaotic process to replace her.
Germany has relatively strict gun controls, but has suffered shooting attacks by lone gunmen before. In March 2009, a 17-year-old school pupil in the southern town of Winnenden shot dead 15 people before killing himself during a gunfight with police.
In 2016, a teenager went on the rampage in Munich, shooting dead nine people at a shopping mall before turning the gun on himself after a siege lasting several hours.
In October last year, a heavily armed man attempted to storm a synagogue in Halle on the Yom Kippur holiday and killed two people nearby in a suspected anti-Semitic attack that authorities blamed on the far right.
Hanau is also close to where Walter Luebcke, a Hesse lawmaker from Merkel’s CDU who supported her refugee policy, was gunned down last year. Latest Interior Minister figures show that there were almost 13,000 violent right-wing extremists in Germany in 2018.
Known as the birthplace of the Brothers Grimm, Hanau is about 20 kilometers east of Frankfurt, Germany’s financial center, and has around 100,000 inhabitants from diverse ethnic backgrounds. In the 2017 general election, the AfD scored 14%, making it the third-strongest party after Merkel’s CDU and the Social Democrats.
The area is a melting pot of Kurds, Turks and Germans but doesn’t typically have a problem with far-right extremism, said Youssef H., a Turkish immigrant who has lived in Hanau for 50 years. He declined to give his full surname.
“Everyone is shocked,” he told Bloomberg. “I can’t believe this happened here. It’s surreal.”
–With assistance from Patrick Donahue.
To contact the reporters on this story: William Wilkes in Frankfurt at firstname.lastname@example.org;Iain Rogers in Berlin at email@example.com
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chad Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org, Andrew Blackman
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