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Germany to step up police presence after murder of nine people

The killings came amid growing concerns about far-right violence in Germany.

Flowers and candles are set around a monument in the market place in Hanau.
Flowers and candles are set around a monument in the market place in Hanau.
Image: Martin Meissner/AP/Press Association Images

Updated Feb 21st 2020, 1:49 PM

GERMANY WILL STEP up the police presence throughout the country and keep a closer watch on mosques and other sites after racially motivated shootings that killed nine people, the country’s top security official said.

A 43-year-old German man fatally shot the victims of immigrant backgrounds in the Frankfurt suburb of Hanau on Wednesday night before killing his mother and himself.

The man, identified as Tobias Rathjen, left a number of rambling texts and videos espousing racist views and claiming to have been under surveillance since birth.

Meanwhile, officials confirmed they had received a letter from the suspect last November in which he sought help from authorities in stopping the surveillance he believed he was under.

The letter did not ring any alarm bells with prosecutors, authorities said.

Interior minister Horst Seehofer said state-level security officials and security agencies he consulted on Thursday agreed to increase the law enforcement presence around the country.

Seehofer said there would be more surveillance at “sensitive sites”, including mosques, and a high police presence at railway stations, airports and borders.

“The threat posed by far-right extremism, anti-Semitism and racism is very high in Germany,” Seehofer told reporters in Berlin.

Thousands of people gathered in cities across Germany on Thursday evening to hold vigils for the shooting victims but also to express anger that authorities have not done enough to prevent attacks despite a string of incidents in recent years

Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned the “poison” of racism, as anger mixed with grief over the latest and deadliest attack linked to Germany’s extreme right in recent months.

germany-shooting German and Turkish flags hanging half-mast in front of a mosque after the shooting in Hanau. Source: Martin Meissner/AP/Press Association Images

Some have called for a crackdown on the extremist and anti-migrant ideology that has crept into mainstream political debate with the rise of the Alternative for Germany party (AfD).

Parts of Alternative for Germany were already under close scrutiny from Germany’s domestic intelligence agency.

The party has rejected all responsibility for far-right attacks, including an anti-Semitic attack on a synagogue and the killing of a regional politician last year.

One key question in the investigation is whether authorities or others were aware the suspect posed a threat.

“That’s one of the points that’s particularly interesting to me in this investigation,” said Seehofer.

“Who knew what.”

Peter Frank, Germany’s chief federal prosecutor, said the investigation would concentrate on the suspect’s movements prior to the attack, and whether he had had contact with other people.

The suspect’s father was being questioned as a witness, he said.

Frank acknowledged that his office had received a letter from the suspect three months ago.

The letter did not contain many of the more explicit racist and genocidal comments later found in the document posted on Rathjen’s website and did not prompt any action from prosecutors, Mr Frank said. 

Vigil 

Last night, hundreds of people, many carrying candles or a white rose, gathered in silence in Hanau to show solidarity with the victims.

Large crowds also gathered in Frankfurt and at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, some carrying signs that read “Take racism personally” or “Never Again!”, in scenes replicated across dozens of German cities.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier placed a wreath of white flowers outside the Arena bar yesterday evening before addressing the main Hanau vigil. 

Steinmeier condemned the shooter’s “brutal act of terror”.

But he said he was heartened to see “thousands, maybe even tens of thousands” turning out across the country to honour the victims.

“We stand together, we want to live together and we show that over and over again. That is the strongest way to fight hatred,” he said, to the occasional shout of “Nazis Out!” from the crowd.

“There is much to indicate that the perpetrator acted out of far-right extremist, racist motives,” she said.

“Out of hatred for people with other origins, other faiths or a different appearance.”

Elsewhere, Frankfurt’s Eintracht football team held a minute’s silence ahead of its Europa League match against RB Salzburg. 

With reporting from © AFP 2020.

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