Germany Probes Possible Islamic State Ties in Ax Attack on Train

  • No motive immediately cited by police in southern Germany
  • Three victims seriously hurt, one suffers minor injuries

German authorities are investigating if an Afghan refugee, who critically wounded two train passengers in an ax attack on Monday, was part of a terror web after Islamic State claimed it inspired the 17-year-old suspect later shot and killed by police.

Though investigators found a handmade Islamic State flag in the teenager’s room, “no evidence has so far been found on the ground that would suggest he was part of Islamist networks,” Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann said at a televised press conference. Texts crafted in Pashtu and Latin characters also found appear to indicate someone who “self-radicalized” recently, Herrmann said.

“We have taken note that Islamic State militias have allegedly accepted responsibility over the Internet,” the minister said. The assailant was a "soldier” answering the call to target nations in the coalition fighting Islamic State, according to a statement by the group’s Amaq news agency shared by sympathizers on Twitter.

French Attack

Islamic State’s claim bore similarities to assertions by the insurgent organization that a 31-year-old Tunisian, who killed 84 people and wounded more than 200 last week after plowing into a crowds celebrating Bastille Day in the French town of Nice, was one of its militia. French authorities have said they have no evidence the truck driver was tied to the group.

German police are still investigating a motive for Monday’s assault. The train was on an evening run from the town of Treuchtlingen to the city of Wuerzburg, when the attacker emerged from a restroom “with an ax or a hatchet and a knife,” Herrmann said. He identified the injured as a family from Hong Kong.

One passenger reported that the attacker shouted “Allahu Akbar,” or “God is great,” during the assault. He arrived in Germany unaccompanied about two years ago, and had been living with a host family in Bavaria for about the last two weeks, according to Herrmann.

Refugee Policy

Germany took in more than 1 million refugees fleeing conflict and poverty last year, by far the largest share among European Union countries. Bavaria was a main entry point for thousands arriving daily after passing through Austria and eastern European countries.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door policy toward refugees has been criticized by some political leaders including Bavarian Premier Horst Seehofer, who say the influx is more than the country can cope with. While many ordinary Germans flocked to their aid, volunteering to help house and integrate the new arrivals, the welcome has faded in the wake of crimes associated with migrants including mass sexual assaults on New Year’s Eve in Cologne. The influx has also led to an increase in arson attacks against asylum shelters.

Reactions by German politicians were muted, including among Merkel’s Bavarian allies, who have previously criticized her policy.

Threat Level

“Yesterday’s attack doesn’t change the threat level,” Stephan Mayer, a lawmaker from the Bavaria-based Christian Social Union, told NTV television in an interview. “You can’t have 100 percent security. It would be wrong to blame society or politicians.”

“So far, it looks like it’s an individual perpetrator,” Peter Altmaier, Merkel’s chief of staff, told ZDF television. “We’ll naturally sift all the evidence and examine everything related to his links and communications in the last few days and hours.”

One individual “can’t be allowed to discredit an entire group of many thousands of young people,” he said, referring to other unaccompanied minors who have come to Germany as refugees.

Lone-wolf attacks are a phenomenon confounding security officials across the globe trying to stem the influence of Islamic State and other terror groups.

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