Hanau, Germany (dpa) – German leaders vowed to fight the “poison” of right-wing extremism after a shooting spree in the western city of Hanau in which a German man shot dead nine people.
Authorities say they believe he worked alone and that the attack was motivated by right-wing philosophies. Many of those killed were of foreign descent. It is being treated as an act of terrorism.
The alleged shooter was later found dead in his residence, alongside the body of his 72-year-old mother.
“Racism is a poison. Hatred is a poison. And this hate exists in our society,” said Chancellor Angela Merkel in her first reaction to the news.
“It is responsible for far too many crimes,” she added, noting last year’s deadly attack on politician Walter Luebcke, last year’s attack on a synagogue in Halle and a series of murders targeting immigrants between 2000 and 2006 by a group known as the National Socialist Underground.
But she retorted that Germany believes in “dignity” for every person, regardless of race or ethnicity.
The attack began late on Wednesday, with shootings on shisha bars and a vehicle. Witnesses say the attacker seemed to single out people who appeared to be foreign.
Five Turkish citizens are among the dead, state news agency Anadolu quoted ambassador to Berlin Ali Kemal Aydin as saying.
The attacks have shown “racism and Islamophobia” are on the rise in Europe, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a separate statement, calling on authorities to fight against xenophobia.
“I believe that German authorities will make all the necessary efforts to shed light on the attack,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.
Officials said there were few confirmed details so far.
“Based on what we know now, there was definitely a xenophobic motive,” Hesse state Interior Minister Peter Beuth said after a Thursday morning press briefing.
The 43-year-old suspect was a hunter and owned his guns legally, but had never come to the attention of authorities before the attacks. Beuth said he is believed to have worked alone. The weapon used in the killings was found next to the suspect’s body.
Authorities are reviewing several videos he posted online in which he speaks at length about surveillance by secret government agencies, sometimes telepathically, and his wish to free his country of non-Germans, specifically those from North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia.
German Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht said it was “shocking how many people were senselessly killed.
“We have to clear up the background of this attack and do everything to prevent such attacks in future.”
Representatives from Islamic groups in Germany argued this was a sign that German officials need to do more to combat right-wing violence because its threat had not been taken seriously in the past.
The shock quickly spilled across Europe, with messages of condolence coming in from the European Union and Italy. French President Emmanuel Macron said he would stand alongside Merkel in the fight for our values and the protection of our democracies.”
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, a German native, tweeted that “I am deeply shocked by the tragedy that took place last night in Hanau.”
German politicians also decried the attack.
Some far-right politicians said that it was incorrect to label this as a right-wing extremist attack, arguing that the shootings were the work of a deranged individual.