Germany Tries to Make Sense of Carnage as Terrorism Excluded

  • Merkel holding emergency security cabinet meeting in Berlin
  • Incident follows ax attack on Monday in northern Bavaria

German Chancellor Angela Merkel convened an emergency meeting of her security cabinet on Saturday as police ruled out any terrorist motive behind a teenage gunman’s rampage in Munich that left 10 people dead including the killer.

Munich police said that a search of the home of the 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. The attacker acted alone, and there is an apparent connection with the fifth anniversary of the murders committed by Anders Behring Breivik in Norway, they said.

“We’re working on the assumption that this was a classic shooting-spree assailant without any political motivation,” Thomas Steinkraus-Koch, the Bavarian state prosecutor, told reporters on Saturday. Hubertus Andrae, the head of Munich police department, added that there was no indication of any connection with Islamic State. Instead, newspaper articles and a book about school shootings found in the suspect’s bedroom suggested “an intensive interest” in such incidents.

Police officers stand guard outside the Olympia-Einkaufszentrum mall after a shooting on Friday, July 22, 2016
Police officers stand guard outside the Olympia-Einkaufszentrum mall after a shooting on Friday, July 22, 2016
Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg

The assailant shot dead nine people at a shopping mall in the north of Munich before turning the gun on himself after a siege lasting several hours into the early hours of Saturday morning. Some 24 people were wounded in the attack that caused mass panic as authorities shut down public transport services and the city went into lockdown.

Ammunition Rounds

Police told residents to stay indoors and the main train station was evacuated as federal police and special forces joined in the manhunt. The alleged 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, most were teenagers, 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 an attack on Monday near the Bavarian town of Treuchtlingen 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.

For a Q&A on the rise of lone-wolf terrorists, click here

Overnight, 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 shooting, which happened just before 6 p.m. local time on Friday, came on the fifth anniversary of the mass shooting and bombing in Norway by Breivik that left 77 people dead. “This connection is apparent,” 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.

Merkel Cabinet

In Berlin, the Federal Security Council -- including Merkel, her chief of staff Peter Altmaier, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen and Interior Minister Thomas De Maiziere -- is meeting to assess the situation. The chancellor will then make a statement on the killings.

The attack caught the government off guard, with many cabinet members already on vacation. Merkel wasn’t able to attend a crisis meeting Friday at the chancellery, while De Maiziere was on a plane to the U.S. at the time, German news agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur reported. He broke off the trip to return to Berlin.

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 and many transiting Munich, the state capital. Her party and personal approval ratings tumbled and the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany party made significant gains in state elections, but the trend has since reversed as a European Union deal with Turkey and the closure of the Balkan route slowed refugee arrivals to a trickle.

Police said 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.

“Regardless of his motives and his personal disposition, we have to do more to ensure that hate and violence do not spread through our society in general,” Kauder said in a statement.

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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