German Authorities Investigate Suspected Far-Right Terror Attack

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Eleven people were killed in shooting incidents on Wednesday night in the German town of Hanau near Frankfurt in what authorities said may have been a right-wing extremist terror attack.

The news prompted immediate soul searching in a nation gripped by concerns about the rise of the far right, which is upending the traditional political order in Europe’s biggest economy and disrupting the final stages of Angela Merkel’s four-term chancellorship.

Nine were killed at two different bars, before the suspected perpetrator and his mother were found dead at a nearby home, authorities said. The suspect was a 43-year-old German national from Hanau, according to Peter Beuth, interior minister in the regional Hesse government. Bild newspaper identified him as Tobias R.

The federal prosecutor has taken over the case and is treating it as a suspected terror attack, Beuth said.

“A first analysis of the suspected culprit’s home page points to a xenophobic motive,” Beuth said in a statement to the Hesse parliament. “I condemn this act in the strongest possible terms. It is an attack on our free and peaceful society.”

Some of the victims were of Kurdish origin, Bild said, without naming the source of its information. Beuth said the suspect was not previously known to authorities and had apparently acted alone.

“Our thoughts are with the people of Hanau this morning, in whose midst a dreadful crime was committed,” Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said in a tweet. “Our deepest sympathies are with the affected families, who are mourning their dead. We hope that the injured quickly recover their health.”

Merkel canceled a planned trip to Halle Thursday and is closely monitoring the situation, Seibert said.

The initial shots were fired at the “Midnight” shisha bar at the Heumarkt in the town center at around 10 p.m. local time, local media reported. After entering the bar’s smoking area, the shooter fired wildly at guests, killing five.

Many people were out watching the Champions League soccer match between German club RB Leipzig and English rivals Tottenham Hotspur, a local bar owner told Bloomberg.

The next incident was around 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) away at the “Arena Bar & Cafe” in the Kesselstadt neighborhood. The corpse of the suspected shooter, who was thought to be acting alone, was later found in his apartment, also in Kesselstadt, along with that of another person, police said. Bild said the second victim was the killer’s mother.

Germany has relatively strict gun controls, but has suffered shooting attacks by lone gunmen before. In March 2009, a 17-year-old school pupil in the southern town of Winnenden shot dead 15 people before killing himself during a gunfight with police.

In 2016, a teenage gunman went on the rampage in Munich, shooting dead nine people at a shopping mall before turning the gun on himself after a siege lasting several hours.

In October last year, a heavily armed man attempted to storm a synagogue in the eastern Germany city of Halle on the Yom Kippur holiday and killed two people nearby in a suspected anti-Semitic attack that authorities blamed on the far right.

The Hanau shooting comes at an extremely delicate juncture in German politics, with the far right on the rise and Merkel’s grip on power weakened. She took an accepting stance on refugees at the height of the Syria crisis that has come at a price.

Hanau is also close to where a regional lawmaker from Merkel’s CDU party was gunned down last year in a suspected right-wing extremist slaying.

For the last two weeks, the country has been in crisis after Merkel’s party aligned with the far-right Alternative for Germany in a vote for premier in an eastern German state. The fallout from that led to the resignation of Merkel’s heir apparent from her post as party leader and a chaotic process to replace her.

Known as the birthplace of the Brothers Grimm, Hanau is about 20 kilometers east of Frankfurt, Germany’s financial center, and has around 100,000 inhabitants from diverse ethnic backgrounds. In the 2017 general election, the AfD scored 14%, making it the third-strongest party after Merkel’s CDU and the Social Democrats.

Local lawmaker Katja Leikert, a member of Merkel’s bloc in the Bundestag, said in a tweet that the shootings are a “horrific scenario for us all.”

“On this terrible night in Hanau, I send those close to the victims much strength and my heartfelt condolences,” Leikert added.

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