German investigators seek motive in deadly knife attack

Investigators were racing Saturday to pinpoint the motive of a man who went on a knife rampage in the German city of Wuerzburg, killing three people and leaving five seriously injured.

German investigators seek motive in deadly knife attack
Policemen look on as people place flowers and candles at a makeshift memorial in tribute to the victims of a deadly attack in the city center of Wuerzburg, southern Germany, on June 26, 2021. Photo: ARMANDO BABANI / AFP

The suspect, a 24-year-old Somali who arrived in Wuerzburg in 2015, staged the attack in the city centre on Friday evening, striking at a household goods store before advancing to a bank.

He was later overpowered by police after they shot him in the thigh.

Investigators found records showing that the man had been treated at a psychiatric institution, and police said he was not a known Islamist.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said the investigations will show what drove the man to go on his rampage.

“But what is certain is that the horrific act is directed at all humanity and every religion,” her spokesman Steffen Seibert tweeted.

But the far-right AfD party immediately seized on the violence that has erupted just three months before the general elections.

The anti-immigration party’s co-leader Joerg Meuthen noted that a witness
had reportedly heard the suspect shouting “Allah Akbar” (God is greatest).

Meuthen lamented the latest “Islamist knife murders in the middle of Germany,” adding that it was a “tragedy for the victims, who have my sympathy and another manifestation of Merkel’s failed migration policy”.

The AfD has railed that Merkel’s decision to allow in more than one million asylum-seekers – many fleeing Iraq and Syria – since 2015 has contributed to a heightened security risk.

Spiegel Online reported the suspect had said in an interrogation that the act was his “jihad”.

If confirmed as an Islamist act, the case risks reopening a bitter debate in Germany over immigration – a topic that has taken a backseat so far in this year’s election campaign, compared to the last polls in 2017 when the AfD won seats in parliament for the first time.

People place flowers and candles at a makeshift memorial in tribute to the victims of a deadly attack in the city center of Wuerzburg, southern Germany. Photo: ARMANDO BABANI / AFP

‘Sad and shocked’

In the Bavarian city, residents brought flowers and candles in the morning to the scene of the stabbing.

“I’m extremely sad and shocked and that’s why I’m here. I find that’s the least one can do – show sympathy,” said Wuerzburg resident Franziska brought candles with a friend.

Others were asking police officers stationed at the site what had happened, an AFP reporter witnessed.

President Frank-Walter Steinmeier voiced shock at the “extreme brutality” of the crime. “We are mourning in all of Germany today with the relatives of the victims,” he said, also wishing the injured a swift recovery.

Two of the five seriously hurt were still in a critical condition, said Bavaria’s interior minister Joachim Herrmann.

Local media reported that all three deaths occurred at the household goods
store, where the suspect had gone to get his knife.

Video footage circulating online showed passers-by trying to stop the suspect using folded chairs.

A crowd of people gave chase before a police car arrived on the scene, one video showed.

Praise poured in from political leaders thanking the civilians for their courage.

“My great respect goes to the brave citizens who quickly intervened,” tweeted Armin Laschet, the leader of Merkel’s CDU party.

READ ALSO: Three people killed in knife attack in German city of Würzburg

A target

While the perpetrator’s motive remains unclear, Germany has been on high alert after several Islamist attacks.

Wuerzburg was itself hit five years ago by an axe-wielding man who seriously wounded four people on a train.

The suspect, an Afghan, sought to attack a passerby before being shot dead by police. The attack was claimed by the Islamic State group.

In Germany’s deadliest Islamist attack, a Tunisian jihadist rammed a truck into a Berlin Christmas market in December 2016, killing 12 people.

More recently, one man was killed by a 20-year-old Syrian jihadist in a knife attack in Dresden in October.

The number of Islamists considered dangerous in Germany rose sharply between 2015 and 2018, according to security services.

Some 615 are considered dangerous by the latest count compared with 730 in January 2018.

Germany remains a target for jihadist groups, in particular because of its involvement in the coalition fighting IS in Iraq and Syria, and its deployment in Afghanistan since 2001.

Member comments

  1. Open immigration, without very stringent verification, does not help anyone, and followup should be required on a regular basis.

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One injured in school shooting in Bremerhaven

A 21-year-old gunman opened fire at a secondary school in northern Germany on Thursday, badly injuring a female member of staff before being arrested, police said.

One injured in school shooting in Bremerhaven

The incident happened at the Lloyd Gymnasium school in the centre of Bremerhaven, a city on Germany’s North Sea coast, on Thursday morning. 

“The armed person has been arrested and is in police custody,” police said in a statement. The injured woman was not a pupil, police said.

They said the suspect had entered the school building and fired at a female member of staff, who was “seriously injured”.

The alarm was quickly raised and police said they detained the suspect at a nearby location soon after and had seized his weapon at the scene.

The injured woman is being treated in hospital.

A video circulating on social media and German news sites appeared to capture the moment the gunman was arrested.

A man dressed in black is seen lying face down on a street corner, with a weapon next to him, before being handcuffed by officers.

But there was no immediate confirmation of reports the alleged weapon was a crossbow.

Bremerhaven police tweeted in the morning that a large deployment was under way in the city centre and asked residents to avoid the Mayor-Martin-Donandt square and surrounding streets, in the vicinity of the Lloyd secondary school.

Local news site Nord24 said a school pupil had heard shots being fired and called the police. Pupils barricaded themselves in their classrooms.

Police launched a large-scale operation and cordoned off the area around the school while they carried out inquiries. 

By mid-afternoon, police said special forces had completed their search and the last people had left the building.

Authorities set up a phone hotline for concerned parents. Many parents had gathered in front of the school after being alerted by their children.

Pupils and staff are receiving psychological counselling.

Local media said only around 200 people were on the school grounds, fewer than normal because of exam times.

In a separate incident on Thursday, police in the eastern city of Leipzig said they had detained a 21-year-old student still at secondary school after being tipped off by Snapchat that he had posted pictures of himself with a gun and made unspecified threats.

The US social media platform alerted German authorities, prompting Leipzig police to take action.

 A police spokesman said that the 21-year-old did not pose a real threat, however, and only possessed an airsoft gun, a replica firearm that uses non-lethal, usually plastic, pellets.

‘Strict gun laws’

School shootings are relatively rare in Germany, a country with some of the strictest gun laws in Europe. But a recent spate has rattled the population.

Last week, investigators in Germany’s city of Essen said they foiled a school bomb assault, as they arrested a 16-year-old who is suspected to have been planning a “Nazi terror attack”.

Police in Essen stormed the teen’s room overnight, taking him into custody and uncovering 16 “pipe bombs”, as well as anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim material.

In January, an 18-year-old student opened fire in a lecture hall at Heidelberg University in southwestern Germany, killing a young woman and
injuring three others before fleeing the scene and turning the weapon on himself.

In 2009, a former pupil killed nine students, three teachers and three passers-by in a school shooting at Winnenden, in the German state of Baden-Württemberg. The gunman then killed himself.

In 2002, a 19-year-old former student, apparently in revenge for having been expelled, shot dead 16 people including 12 teachers and two students at a school in the central German city of Erfurt. He too then killed himself.

The Winnenden and Erfurt massacres were carried out with legal weapons and spurred Germany to tighten gun laws.

The country currently requires anyone under 25 to pass a psychiatric exam before applying for a gun licence.