Ax Attacker Inspired by Islamic State, German Minister Says

  • Assailant, who posted a video online, likely acted alone
  • Europe must prepare itself for more radicalized assailants

An ax-wielding teenager who attacked passengers on a regional train in Germany late Monday was an asylum seeker who became inspired by Islamic State jihadism, though likely acted alone, the country’s interior minister said.

Investigators in Bavaria are still sifting through evidence to establish how and why a 17-year-old refugee, registered as an Afghan asylum seeker last June, committed a “brutal act of violence,” German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said Wednesday. The attacker left a number of Chinese tourists with life-threatening injuries before he was shot and killed by police.

“There is much to indicate that this was an attack committed by a lone assailant who was spurred on by the propaganda of the so-called Islamic State,” de Maiziere told reporters in Berlin.

The bloody attack, occurring four days after a man killed 84 people by plowing a truck through a crowd of revelers in southern France, highlights the emerging risk of self-radicalized attackers bent on committing violence in Germany and in Europe, de Maiziere said.

“We have to anticipate attacks by small groups or radicalized lone actors,” the minister said. “We all experienced that in a bitter way on Monday evening.”

As with the Nice attacker, the Afghan refugee in Germany wasn’t on any police or intelligence watch list. In addition to a letter threatening revenge on “infidels,” the teenager had posted a “classic farewell video of a suicide attacker” on YouTube, in which he identified himself as a “soldier of the caliphate” and pledged himself to Islamic State, de Maiziere said.

Still, “the video contains no indications of an arrangement” with Islamic State, the minister said.

De Maiziere, a close ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel, defended the government’s migration policy, which came under strain last year as the country took in more than 1 million migrants fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East. He said it’s right to have legal channels for migration alongside measures to reduce the influx. 

“The horrible act of one individual cannot be used to discredit a large group of people,” the chancellor’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said.

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