Merkel Vows to Protect Germans as Terrorism Ruled Out in Munich

  • Suspect was fascinated by shooting sprees; no terrorist motive
  • Incident follows ax attack on Monday in northern Bavaria

Chancellor Angela Merkel sought to reassure Germans that the state will keep them safe as she pledged all resources to get to the bottom of the rampage in Munich that left 10 people dead and more than 20 wounded in an attack with no known link to terrorism.

Speaking after an emergency meeting of her security cabinet on Saturday, Merkel said that “we are all grieving” after the “night of horror” in the Bavarian capital. She said Germans can draw strength from both the wave of help offered by the people of Munich to those fleeing the killer and the international expressions of solidarity.

Angela Merkel makes a statment on July 23.
Angela Merkel makes a statment on July 23.
Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg

“We will find what exactly was behind this act,” Merkel told reporters in the Chancellery in Berlin after being briefed on the latest situation. “The state and its security forces will continue to do everything to protect the security and freedom of everybody in Germany.”

The chancellor spoke after police ruled out any terrorist motive behind the attacks by a teenage gunman that caused mass panic in Germany’s third-biggest city and ended in his own death. The tragedy was especially hard to bear, coming so soon after the killings in Nice and an ax attack on a train in Bavaria on Monday, said Merkel.

Police earlier said that a search of the home of the Munich suspect, an 18-year-old German-Iranian who was born and raised in the city, yielded no evidence of any link to terrorism but showed that he had studied past shooting incidents.

Shooting Spree

“We’re working on the assumption that this was a classic shooting-spree assailant without any political motivation,” Thomas Steinkraus-Koch, Bavarian state prosecutor, told reporters.

For a Q&A explainer on lone-wolf terrorists, click here

Hubertus Andrae, head of the Munich police department, said there was no indication of any connection with Islamic State. Rather, newspaper articles and a book about school shootings found in the suspect’s bedroom suggested “an intensive interest” in such incidents.

The assailant began the shooting spree at a McDonald’s restaurant next to the Olympia shopping center in the north of Munich. Police say he appears to have hacked into the Facebook account of an unidentified user to lure youths to the fast-food restaurant.

He shot dead nine people around the mall complex before turning the gun on himself after a siege lasting several hours into the early hours of Saturday morning. Some 27 people were wounded in the attack, with 10 of them severely.

Ammunition Rounds

With the city in lockdown and special forces deployed in the manhunt, the perpetrator’s body was found a short distance from the scene. In his possession were a 9mm Glock pistol with the serial number scratched out and more than 300 rounds of ammunition in his backpack. Of the victims, six were youths, police said.

Germany has so far been spared the type of terrorist attack that killed hundreds in Paris, Nice and Brussels, though the authorities have repeatedly warned that the threat remains high. Tensions have risen since mass sexual assaults in Cologne and other cities on New Year’s Eve and Monday’s attack in which two people were critically injured with an ax on a train by a 17-year-old Afghan refugee, whom police later shot and killed.

Police officers stand guard in Munich on July 23.
Police officers stand guard in Munich on July 23.
Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg

Special forces raided the Munich suspect’s apartment, which he shared with his parents, and removed boxes. Television channels carried a video posted on YouTube purporting to show an exchange between the attacker and a resident in which the suspect, armed with a gun, shouted that he had been treated for some unspecified illness. Police said that toxicology tests will be conducted for any evidence of anti-depressive drugs.

“He had apparently been undergoing medical and indeed psychiatric treatment,” said Steinkraus-Koch. “I would be cautious with this, but it appears to have to do with a depressive illness.”

Shooting Sprees

The shootings, which began just before 6 p.m. local time on Friday, came on the fifth anniversary of the mass shooting and bombing in Norway by Anders Behring Breivik that left 77 people dead. The attacker acted alone, and there is a possible connection with the anniversary, Andrae said.

Germany has suffered shooting attacks by lone gunmen before. In March 2009, a 17-year-old school graduate in the southern town of Winnenden shot dead 15 people before killing himself during a gunfight with police. Separately, a Germanwings pilot with mental-health issues deliberately flew his aircraft into the French Alps in March last year, killing all 150 people on board.

“There can never be absolute security, but we need to be able to do everything humanly possible to remain vigilant,” Bavarian Prime Minister Horst Seehofer said in a statement.

Refugees Policy

Merkel has come under intense pressure over her open-doors refugee policy that resulted in about a million people claiming asylum in Germany last year, the vast majority arriving in Bavaria. Police stressed that there was no evidence of any connection between the Munich killings and the refugees situation.

Members of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union-led bloc urged against jumping to conclusions about the attacker’s motives. Stephan Mayer, a member of the Christian Social Union, the CDU’s Bavarian ally party that was most critical of her refugees policy, called for “cool heads” and no “false speculation.” Volker Kauder, the CDU/CSU caucus leader, urged against the “brutalization of speech” that can lead to a spiral of violence.

U.S. President Barack Obama expressed condolences in remarks at the White House on Friday. “Germany’s one of our closest allies so we are going to pledge all of the support that they may need in dealing with these circumstances,” he said.

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