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Shootings In Germany Kill 10; Police Suspect Far-Right Extremism

Feb 20, 2020
Originally published on February 20, 2020 10:04 am

Updated at 9:45 a.m. ET

At least 10 people were killed by a gunman in western Germany late Wednesday at several locations, including two hookah lounges frequented by ethnic Kurdish customers. The suspected shooter, who was later found dead, left a letter and video claiming responsibility, according to multiple German news agencies.

The suspect had reportedly posted materials online that were vehemently anti-immigrant, prompting federal prosecutors to take over the case.

"Racism is a poison. Hate is a poison," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a video statement Thursday as evidence began to point to the gunman being motivated by extreme right-wing views.

Merkel added that her government will stand up to anyone who tries to use hate to divide Germany.

At least six others were hurt, including one person with critical injuries, the federal prosecutor's office said at a briefing Thursday.

The gunman first opened fire at a lounge in downtown Hanau, east of Frankfurt. He then drove to a second location about 1½ miles away, killing a total of nine people at the two locations, according to a spokesperson for the South Hesse state police.

Police had said that a dark-colored vehicle was seen leaving the scene of the first attack and that the vehicle was also present at the scene of the attack at the second hookah lounge.

Forensic police work at a crime scene in front of a bar and hookah lounge at the Heumarkt in downtown Hanau, near Frankfurt, on Thursday.
Thomas Lohnes / AFP via Getty Images

Following a manhunt, police found the body of the suspect in his apartment, along with another body, at about 10 p.m. local time (4 p.m. ET). The second body was later identified as the suspect's 72-year-old mother.

Police say they don't believe anyone else was involved.

Earlier, Steffen Seibert, a spokesman for Merkel, tweeted: "Our thoughts are with the people of #Hanau this morning, where a horrific crime was committed."

Hanau Mayor Claus Kaminsky, speaking to Bild newspaper, called it "a terrible evening that will certainly occupy us for a long, long time and we will remember with sadness."

At hookah lounges, also known as shisha bars, people gather to smoke flavored tobacco from water pipes.

Peter Beuth, the interior minister for the state of Hesse, where Hanau is located, confirmed local media reports that federal authorities are investigating the shooting as likely linked to far-right extremism.

The attacks come four days a shooting that killed one person near a Turkish comedy show in Berlin and months after an attacker killed two people while trying to attack a synagogue in the city of Halle on Yom Kippur, the Jewish holy day.

In response to the surge in far-right extremism in Germany, the country's parliament, the Bundestag, approved new gun laws last month, further tightening regulations on firearms that are already among the world's most stringent.

After the bill was approved, federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said the government's goal was to make sure there were "no weapons in the hands of extremists."

Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht said, "I do not want to wait until arms get into the hands of right-wing extremists."

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Last night in Germany, there was a mass shooting in the town of Hanau. Eleven people are dead. That includes the suspected shooter. Six others were also injured, one of them critically. At a press conference today, German prosecutors said the suspected shooter posted a manifesto online that was full of conspiracy theories and deeply racist views. The police said they found the man and his elderly mother dead at his home address. And let's talk through this with NPR international correspondent Rob Schmitz, who is in Berlin. Hi, Rob.


GREENE: OK. So I know this just happened last night. The investigation is taking place. What did we learn from this press conference? What do we know at this point?

SCHMITZ: Yeah. Well, last night at around 10 o'clock local time, a gunman opened fire at a hookah bar, and that at another one in the city of Hanau, which is outside of Frankfurt, killing nine people and injuring six others, one of them critically. Clientele at both of these bars are predominantly Turkish and Kurdish Germans, though at this hour, police are not releasing the identities of the victims. After the shootings, the suspect then returned to his apartment. And that's where police found his body and the body of his 72-year-old mother with a gun beside them.

Police believe the suspect is a 43-year-old German citizen who is a resident of Hanau. Authorities in the German state of Hesse say they're investigating the crime as a probable right-wing extremist terrorist attack. Authorities have found a written confession at the suspect's home in which he wrote that certain races need to be eliminated. They also say that he left rambling video monologues filled with conspiracy theories that indicate he was a racist and had right-wing extremist views.

GREENE: All right. So we're really getting a window into his possible motives at this point.

SCHMITZ: Yeah. And, you know, obviously, Germany is a country that has spent decades working to reconcile a past full of extremism. But, you know, right-wing extremism here in the country has been on the rise since 2015, when Chancellor Angela Merkel made the difficult decision to allow hundreds of thousands of migrants from countries in the Middle East and North Africa to find refuge here. And after that, there were a string of terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists that were then followed by terror attacks by right-wing extremists.

According to government data, the number of right-wing extremists in Germany has risen by a third last year alone. German intelligence now suspects that there are more than 32,000 right-wing extremists, and half of them are considered potentially violent, with a high affinity for firearms. And this attack comes after another shooting in Berlin four days ago near a Turkish comedy show that killed one person. And it comes four months after a right-wing extremist shot and killed two while trying to attack a synagogue in the city of Halle.

GREENE: Oh, wow. Well, I mean, what can the German government do to prevent more of these attacks? Are they doing anything?

SCHMITZ: Well, yeah, in fact, they are. You know, gun laws in Germany are among the most stringent in the world, and they've been tightened even further in recent years after other mass shootings. And Germany's government is planning an overhaul of its domestic intelligence and law enforcement agencies this year in an effort to crack down on right-wing extremism. The Bundestag, Germany's Parliament, has approved 600 new jobs to help tackle this rising problem.

GREENE: All right. NPR's Rob Schmitz in Berlin. Thanks so much, Rob.

SCHMITZ: Thanks, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.