Germany races to act on far-right threat after deadly shootings

Updated 22 Feb 2020


HANAU (Germany): People hold up photos of some of the victims during a march following a vigal outside a shisha cafe on Friday, two days after a gunman killed nine people in a racist attack.—AFP
HANAU (Germany): People hold up photos of some of the victims during a march following a vigal outside a shisha cafe on Friday, two days after a gunman killed nine people in a racist attack.—AFP

BERLIN: German ministers promised on Friday to ramp up security and put more police on the streets to quell public fears, two days after a racist gunman killed nine people.

Thousands joined vigils on Thursday night to show solidarity with the victims of the right-wing extremist attack at a shisha bar and cafe in the city of Hanau, which sparked debates over gun laws and protection of migrants and minorities.

Announcing an “increased police presence” at mosques, train stations, airports and borders, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said right-wing extremism was the “biggest security threat facing Germany”.

“The police have told us there’ll be a patrol car here for at least a few minutes every Friday during prayers, so people feel safe,” Hanau mosque head Memduh Emdef said.

Seehofer said the far right had left “a trail of blood” in recent months — two people died in an attack on a synagogue in the city of Halle in October and a pro-migrant politician was murdered at his home in June.

Separately, 12 men were arrested across Germany a week ago on suspicion of planning attacks on mosques aimed at bringing about “a civil-war-like situation” in Germany.

Late Wednesday, the Hanau gunman opened fire on unsuspecting patrons at a shisha bar and cafe at two separate locations, killing nine people — all with migrant backgrounds — and wounding six more, including one gravely.

Police found the suspect and his mother shot dead in his flat hours later in an apparent murder-suicide, also recovering weapons and ammunition from the home and his car.

“Muslims in this country are afraid not only for their mosques, but for their children and families,” Zekeriya Altug of the Muslim Coordination Council told reporters in Berlin following Seehofer’s announcement of tougher security measures.

“It’s up to the authorities to ensure Muslims’ security... politicians continue not only to play down the problem, but to keep mum about Islamophobia,” Altug added.

Seehofer insisted that “in this government... no-one is blind” to the threat from the extreme right.

He and justice minister Christine Lambrecht pointed out that Germany has updated its law on firearms licensing in recent weeks and a new bill targeting online hate speech is being considered.

In December, Seehofer also announced hundreds of new posts for federal police and security services to strengthen surveillance of the far-right scene.

But he warned that, “despite all our efforts, we cannot completely rule out such terrible crimes”.

Federal police chief Holger Muench said “around half” of those who carry out attacks with extreme-right motivations were previously unknown to his officers.

The suspects in both the Halle synagogue attack and the Hanau shootings appear to have been radicalised largely online, publishing racist screeds only shortly before their attacks.

“The problem is perpetrators who act almost without any structure behind them, practically with only an internet connection... how can potential perpetrators be identified, that’s the big challenge,” Muench said. Such people were “time bombs”, justice minister Lambrecht said.

King’s College London counter-terror expert Peter Neumann told Die Welt daily that “what is already happening regarding jihadism must happen regarding right-wing extremism”.

“Security services should infiltrate and surveil forums” where people with far-right leanings gather, he said.

Published in Dawn, February 22nd, 2020