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What we know so far about the shooting in Hamburg

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AFP/The Local - [email protected]
What we know so far about the shooting in Hamburg
Investigators stand in front of a Jehovah's Witness building in Hamburg. Several people were killed and some injured in shots fired at an event on Thursday evening. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/Tnn | Steven Hutchings

A gunman stormed a Jehovah's Witness centre in Hamburg, shooting dead several victims, including an unborn baby, before killing himself. Here's what we know so far.

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What happened on Thursday night?

The shooting happened in northern Hamburg on Thursday evening, leaving seven victims dead, including an unborn baby. The gunman then killed himself, regional interior minister Andy Grote said.

Grote described it as "the worst crime in the recent history of our city".

Police had initially said the shooting left eight people dead, but that included the gunman and a seven-month-old foetus of killed in the attack. The woman pregnant with the baby has survived, it was clarified later in the day. 

The perpetrator targeted a Jehovah's Witness centre located between the Groß Borstel and Alsterdorf districts, where a community event was taking place at the time in the Kingdom Hall.

The Hamburger Abendblatt reported that participants were gathering at a Bible study group, which had started at 7pm.

After shots were fired, the alarm was raised shortly after 9 pm. Emergency services arrived to find several lifeless bodies and seriously wounded people.

The police action interrupted the shooting, prompting the attacker to flee to the first floor of the building where he killed himself, said Grote.

"We can assume that (the rapid police action) saved many lives," he added.

Police and forensic investigators were at the scene on Friday morning securing evidence. 

According to sources, the crime was being classified by authorities as a rampage, reported DPA.

READ ALSO: Gunman kills seven in shooting at Jehovah's Witness centre in Hamburg

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What do we know about the suspected gunman?

Authorities confirmed on Friday afternoon that the gunman was an ex-member of the Jehovah's Witnesses community.

"Philipp F. was a former member" of the Jehovah's Witnesses, a senior police official told a press conference, adding that the attacker left the community about 18 months ago "but apparently not on good terms".

There was "no indication of a terrorist background" to the attack, a spokesman for the Hamburg prosecution's office said.

Hamburg-based news magazine Der Spiegel reported that the weapon used was a handgun. 

Bild newspaper said the suspect was 35-years-old and from Germany. 

According to investigators, the suspect was legally in possession of the weapon. 

However, police said an anonymous tip-off had been sent to the weapons control authority in January this year, claiming that Philipp F. may have been suffering from an undiagnosed psychological illness and that he had a "particular anger against religious members or against the Jehovah's Witnesses and his former employer".

Shots heard by neighbours 

The suspect is said to have forcibly gained access to the building, where the service with up to 50 participants was being held, reported Spiegel. 

According to a reporter from northern German broadcaster NDR, the perpetrator allegedly broke a window in the rear part of the building to get inside. 

Neighbours said they heard repeated rounds of gunshots.

"Our son filmed the whole thing, he could see quite well from the house," Bernd Mibache, a 66-year-old business owner, told AFP.

"On the video you can see that someone broke a window, you can hear shots fired and see that someone broke in."

Another resident said police arrived on the scene within "four or five minutes".

"We heard shots and we knew something big was happening," said the woman, who gave only her first name Anetta.

Police deployed a large contingent, including helicopters.

Police at the scene in Hamburg.

Police at the scene in Hamburg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jonas Walzberg

Hamburg police are asking witnesses to come forward and upload any pictures or videos they may have to a special website.

Minister Grote thanked the emergency services. "My express thanks go to the Hamburg police, who were on the scene very quickly and handled this extremely challenging situation in a highly professional and careful manner," he said.

Who were the victims?

The victims are four men and two women aged between 33 and 60. A seven-month-old foetus also died. The mother of the child survived, according to investigators.

Several people were injured, four of them seriously. 

What's the reaction?

Tributes have poured in for the victims and their families, including from Jehovah's Witnesses and other religious communities. 

There are about 175,000 people in Germany, including 3,800 in Hamburg, who are Jehovah's Witnesses, a US Christian movement set up in the late 19th century that preaches non-violence and is known for door-to-door evangelism.

The Jehovah's Witnesses in Germany association said it was "deeply saddened by the horrific attack on its members".

The Archdiocese of Hamburg said on Twitter: "Several people have become victims of a brutal crime in Hamburg. Much is still unclear. We are shocked. Together we pray."

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Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD), a former mayor of Hamburg, described the attack as a brutal act of violence in a tweet.

"Terrible news from Hamburg. Several members of a Jehovah's church fell victim to a brutal act of violence last night," he said on Friday morning.

"My thoughts are with them and their loved ones. And with the security forces who have gone through a tough operation." Police have yet to comment in detail on the victims.

Police officers stand in front of a Jehovah's Witness building in Hamburg. Shots fired at a Jehovah's Witnesses event killed several people and injured some on Thursday evening.
Police officers stand in front of a Jehovah's Witness building in Hamburg. Shots fired at a Jehovah's Witnesses event killed several people and injured some on Thursday evening. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/Tnn | Steven Hutchings

German federal Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said investigators were "working flat-out to determine the background" to the attack.

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What other attacks have taken place in Germany?

Germany has been rocked by several attacks in recent years, both by jihadists and far-right extremists.

Among the deadliest committed by Islamist extremists is a truck rampage at a Berlin Christmas market in December 2016 that killed 12 people.

The Tunisian attacker, a failed asylum seeker, was a supporter of the Islamic State jihadist group.

Europe's most populous nation remains a target for jihadist groups in particular because of its participation in the anti-Islamic State coalition in Iraq and Syria.

Between 2013 and 2021, the number of Islamists considered dangerous in the country had multiplied by five to reach 615, according to Interior Ministry data.

But Germany has also been hit by several far-right assaults in recent years, sparking accusations that the government was not doing enough to stamp out neo-Nazi violence.

In February 2020 a far-right extremist shot dead 10 people and wounded five others in the central German city of Hanau.

READ ALSO: Three years after Hanau: Does Germany still have a 'racism problem'?

And in 2019, two people were killed after a neo-Nazi tried to storm a synagogue in Halle on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur.

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