Nine people were killed and four injured in two shootings at shisha bars in what appears to be a racist attack in the city of Hanau, around 20km east of Frankfurt on Wednesday night.
Police in the central state of Hesse said the perpetrator had been found dead at his home in Hanau after they located a getaway vehicle seen by witnesses.
Sources close to the investigation confirmed media reports that text and video material was found at the home of the perpetrator, who was said to be a 43-year-old man identified only as Tobias R.
Police said that a second body discovered at the property belonged to the man's 72-year-old mother, bringing the total number of deaths to 11.
Investigators believe a racist motive to be behind the shootings. Peter Beuth, Hesse's interior minister, said. “Our current insights give enough ground for a xenophobic motive.”
Media also reported that a 'confession letter' found suggests far-right motives to the attacks.
There are no indications of further perpetrators.
Anti-terror prosecutors have taken over the investigation. They also said there were signs of a “xenophobic motive” for the killings.
Police said the shootings, which took place at 10pm at two shisha bars in different parts of Hanau, left nine people dead and four people injured.
The first attack happened at the “Midnight” bar in the centre of the city. Three people were killed in front of the building, local media said, with witnesses reporting hearing a dozen shots.
The attacker fled the scene by car, according to police.
There was then a second shooting at the “Arena Bar”. A gunman reportedly rang the doorbell and shot people who were in the smoking section, killing five people including a woman, Bild said.
A total of nine people were killed, police said, and several were injured.
The bloodshed plunged Germany into mourning, and rallies are scheduled in Berlin, Hanau and other cities on Thursday to honour the victims.
Relatives and friends of the victims gathered at the Arena bar around midday Thursday, an AFP reporter said, tearfully embracing one another.
A Mercedes is covered with foil in front of the bar in Hanau-Kesselstadt where a shooting took place. Photo: DPA
What do we know about the victims?
All nine dead, aged between 21 and 44, had a “migrant background,” although some were German citizens, chief federal prosecutor Peter Frank said.
Six others were injured, including one critically.
The suspect, identified as 43-year-old German Tobias R., was found dead at his home following an hours-long manhunt.
The body of his 72-year-old mother was also found at the flat in what appeared to be a murder-suicide.
Prosecutor Frank said evidence, including video and a 24-page “manifesto” found on the suspect's website, “shows a very deeply racist attitude”.
Among the dead were “several victims of Kurdish origin”, the Kon-Med association of Kurds in Germany said in a statement, adding that it was “furious” that authorities were not doing more to combat rising extremism.
German daily Bild said that those killed in the first bar were of Kurdish origin.
A gunman reportedly rang the doorbell and shot people who were in the smoking section, killing five people including a woman, Bild said.
“The victims are people we have known for years,” said the bar manager's son, reported DPA. Two employees were among the victims, according to the man, who was not at the bar during the shooting. “It is a shock for everyone”.
Some of those killed were of Turkish origin, a spokesman for the Turkish presidency said. “We expect German authorities to show maximum effort to enlighten this case. Racism is a collective cancer,” İbrahim Kalın said on Twitter.
The bloodshed plunged Germany into mourning, and rallies are scheduled in Berlin, Hanau and other cities later on Thursday to honour the victims.
Frankfurt's Eintracht football team said it would hold a minute's silence ahead of its Europa League match against RB Salzburg on Thursday.
What's the motive behind the shootings?
At this stage it's too early to tell but German daily Bild and other media outlets reported that the confession letter expressed a far-right motive for the attack.
Federal prosecutors on Thursday announced they had taken over the investigation, saying there are signs of a “xenophobic motive”.
There are suspicions of a terrorist act of violence, Hesse CDU politician Beuth said.
The man had not been known to the authorities so far and had not attracted police attention in the past.
What do we know about the shooter?
The suspect has been identified as a 43-year-old man called Tobias R.
After the attacks, he shot himself and his 72-year-old mother at home, police said. They also confirmed that he had a hunting licence.
According to DPA, a few days before the crime the suspected perpetrator had posted a disturbing video on YouTube that included conspiracy theories.
In the video, he speaks fluent English and discusses a “personal message to all Americans”.
The clip, which could be seen on the Internet on Thursday morning but was later taken down, was apparently shot in a private apartment and was posted online a few days ago.
In it, the man says that there are underground military facilities in the USA where children are abused and killed.
American citizens should wake up and fight against these conditions “now”, he said. A reference to an imminent own act of violence in Germany is not included in the video.
In a rambling 24-page document seen by AFP, the alleged gunman wrote that people from more than two dozen countries, including Turkey and Israel, should be “destroyed”.
He also said he had never been with a woman, which he blamed on being “watched” by unspecified secret services.
King's College London counter-terrorism expert Peter Neumann tweeted about the text, saying that it contained “various, but mostly extreme right views, with a do-it-yourself ideology cobbled together out of parts found on the internet”.
“The pattern is clear, and not at all new,” he added.
— Peter R. Neumann (@PeterRNeumann) February 20, 2020
Investigators examine a car at the crime scene. Photo: DPA
Where is Hanau?
Hanau in in the central German state of Hesse is an industrial city with a population of about 100,000. It's around 20km east of the financial capital Frankfurt.
Is extremism a concern in Germany?
Yes. Germany is on alert after a series of extremist attacks and threats, including the Christmas market attack which killed 12 people in Berlin in December 2016 claimed by terror group ISIS.
But far-right terror incidents have become a particular concern for German authorities recently.
In October, a deadly anti-Semitic gun attack in the eastern city of Halle on the holy day of Yom Kippur underscored the rising threat of neo-Nazi violence. The rampage, in which two people were shot dead, was streamed live.
Meanwhile, the country was shocked when last June conservative pro-refugee politician Walter Lübcke was shot at his home.
On Friday police arrested 12 members of a German extreme right group believed to have been plotting “shocking” large-scale attacks on mosques similar to the ones carried out in New Zealand last year.
Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday condemned the “poison” of hatred and racism running through German society.
“Racism is a poison, hatred is a poison and this poison exists in our society and it is already to blame for far too many crimes,” Merkel told reporters.
Following the incident, police hurried to cover up the address of the perpetrator's website with a blue plastic sheet after it was spray-painted on a nearby wall.
“I couldn't be any more upset,” said Inge Bank, 82, who lives near the bar.
“We have to nip it in the bud if the Nazi party is coming back,” Bank said, adding that she had lived through World War II.
Interior Minister Horst Seehofer also visited the scene, laying flowers outside the Midnight bar.
He said interior ministers from Germany's 16 states would later on Thursday discuss ways to improve security in light of the “very concerning” development in the extreme right scene.
How did Germany's far-right AfD react?
As condemnation of the apparently racist violence in Hanau poured in, the co-leader of the far-right AfD (Alternative for Germany) party Joerg Meuthen stood out by saying the shootings were “neither right- nor left-wing terrorism” but the actions of “a madman”.
Politicians from across the political spectrum however accused the anti-Islam, anti-immigrant AfD of normalising hate speech and fomenting anti-foreigner sentiment in recent years.
Founded in 2013, the AfD has risen to become the biggest opposition party in the German national parliament.
It has railed against Germany's influx of asylum seekers and called for Germany to stop atoning for its Nazi past.
How is Germany dealing with threat of extremists?
Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said last year there are an estimated 24,000 far-right extremists in Germany and half of them are considered potentially violent with “a very high affinity for firearms”.
According to a report in the Tagesspiegel newspaper, the intelligence service expected there to be a total of 32,200 right-wing extremists in 2019 – compared with 24,100 in the previous year.
In December the German government revealed how it is planning an overhaul of its domestic intelligence and law enforcement agencies next year in a bid to crack down on right-wing extremism following high profile terror attacks.
Among the plans were for 600 new roles, with 300 intended for the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) and 300 for the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV).
Authorities are also planning to have more of a focus on understanding the wider picture of extremist networks rather than just individuals and want better communication between all agencies working at a local and federal level.
There's also set to be a “central office for far-right extremists in public service” which will be set up by the domestic intelligence service to uncover cases of extremism in the police, military and civil service.