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TERRORISM

Update: Germany increases police presence amid ‘very high’ security threat from far-right

German ministers promised on Friday to ramp up security and put more police on the streets to quell public fears, two days after a racist gunman killed nine people.

Update: Germany increases police presence amid 'very high' security threat from far-right
Tributes and a sign that reads 'we are more' in Hanau. Photo: DPA

Thousands joined vigils on Thursday night to show solidarity with the victims of the right-wing extremist attack at a shisha bar and cafe in the city of Hanau, which sparked debates over gun laws and protection of migrants and minorities.

Announcing an “increased police presence” at mosques, train stations, airports and borders, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said right-wing extremism was the “biggest security threat facing Germany”.

He said it had left “a trail of blood” in recent months – two died in an attack on a synagogue in the city of Halle in October and a pro-migrant politician was murdered at his home in June.

Separately, 12 men were arrested across Germany a week ago on suspicion of planning attacks on mosques aimed at bringing about “a civil-war-like situation” in Germany.

'Time bombs'

Seehofer insisted that “in this government… no-one is blind” to the threat from the extreme right.

He and Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht highlighted that Germany has updated its law on firearms licensing in recent weeks and a new bill targeting online hate speech is being considered.

The security threat from right-wing extremism, anti-Semitism and racism is very high,” Seehofer said at a press conference in Berlin.

“The act in Hanau is clearly a racially motivated terrorist attack,” Seehofer said, adding that it was “the third right-wing terrorist attack” in recent months.

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In December, Seehofer also announced hundreds of new posts for federal police and security services to strengthen surveillance of the far-right scene.

Yet both Seehofer and Lambrecht underlined the difficulty of detecting attackers who act alone, as the key suspect in the Hanau shootings appeared to have done.

“Despite all our efforts, we cannot completely rule out such terrible crimes,” said Seehofer.

Federal police chief Holger Münch warned that “around half” of those who carry out such attacks were previously unknown to the authorities.

READ ALSO: After Hanau: How can Germany deal with extreme right wing terror

Horst Seehofer in Hanau on Thursday. Photo: DPA

Suspects in both the Halle synagogue attack and the Hanau shootings appear to have been radicalised largely online, publishing racist screeds only shortly before their attacks.

“The problem is perpetrators who act almost without any structure behind them, practically with only an internet connection… how can potential perpetrators be identified, that's the big challenge,” Münch said.

Such people were “time bombs”, justice minister Lambrecht said.

King's College London counter-terror expert Peter Neumann told Die Welt daily that “what is already happening regarding jihadism must happen regarding right-wing extremism”.

“Security services should infiltrate and surveil forums” where people with far-right leanings gather, he said.

It echoed other calls.

Political scientist Florian Hartleb and far-right expert told The Local authorities needed to find better strategies for dealing with the online world in order to stop these so-called lone wolves from acting this way.

“The only way to stop it is to observe Internet activities more carefully,” he said.

Questions for AfD

The Hanau shooter legally owned firearms, dragging Germany's gun licensing laws into the focus of public debate.

People demonstrating Thursday night at Berlin's Brandenburg gate held signs calling to “disarm fascists”.

There are thought to be around 5.4 million weapons in circulation in Germany, according to Bild newspaper.

Increasing numbers of guns are being seized from radical-right suspects, mounting to 1,091 in 2018 compared with 676 the previous year.

Even members of the Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative CDU party have argued for tougher controls, in a country where hunting and sport shooting remain popular pastimes.

The role far-right political party AfD, in parliament since 2017, has also come under scrutiny – some arguing that they provide the ideological foundations for extremists.

The anti-immigrant outfit, whose leaders denounce Germany's culture of remembrance for Nazi crimes, should be “placed under surveillance” by security services, Social Democratic Party (SPD) secretary general Lars Klingbeil said.

“One man opened fire in Hanau, but there were many who provided him with ammunition,” Klingbeil told public broadcaster ARD.

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TERRORISM

US vice president lays wreaths at site of 2015 Paris terror attacks

US Vice President Kamala Harris and French Prime Minister Jean Castex laid wreaths at a Paris cafe and France's national football stadium Saturday six years since deadly terror attacks that left 130 people dead.

US vice president lays wreaths at site of 2015 Paris terror attacks
US Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff lay flowers after ceremonies at Le Carillon bar and Le Petit Cambodge restaurant, at which 130 people were killed during the 2015 Paris terror attacks. Photo: Sarahbeth Maney/POOL/AFP

The attacks by three separate teams of Islamic State group jihadists on the night of November 13, 2015 were the worst in France since World War II.

Gunmen mowed down 129 people in front of cafes and at a concert hall in the capital, while a bus driver was killed after suicide bombers blew themselves up at the gates of the stadium in its suburbs.

Harris, wrapping up a four-day trip to France, placed a bouquet of white flowers in front of a plaque honouring the victims outside a Paris cafe.

Castex attended a minute of silence at the Stade de France football stadium, along with Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, before laying wreaths at the sites of the other attacks inside Paris.

In front of the Bataclan concert hall, survivors and relatives of the victims listened to someone read out the names of each of the 90 people killed during a concert there six years ago.

Public commemorations of the tragedy were called off last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Last year we weren’t allowed to come and we all found it really tough,” said Bruno Poncet, who made it out alive of the Bataclan.

But he said the start of a trial over the attacks in September meant that those attending the commemoration this year felt more united.

‘Overcome it all’

“We’ve really bonded thanks to the trial,” he said. “During previous commemorations, we’d spot each other from afar without really daring to speak to each other. We were really shy. But standing up in court has really changed everything.”

The marathon trial, the biggest in France’s modern legal history, is expected to last until May 2022.

Twenty defendants are facing sentences of up to life in prison, including the sole attacker who was not gunned down by police, Salah Abdeslam, a French-Moroccan national who was captured in Brussels. Six of the defendants are being tried in absentia.

Poncet said he felt it was crucial that he attend the hearings. “I can’t possibly not. It’s our lives that are being discussed in that room, and it’s important to come to support the others and to try to overcome it all.”

Survivors have taken to the witness stand to recount the horror of the attacks, but also to describe life afterwards.

Several said they had been struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, grappling with survivor’s guilt, or even feeling alienated from the rest of society.

Saturday’s commemorations are to wrap up with a minute of silence at the Stade de France in the evening before the kick-off for a game between France and Kazakhstan.

It was during a football match between France and Germany that three suicide bombers blew themselves up in 2015.

Then-French president Francois Hollande was one of the 80,000 people in the crowd, before he was discreetly whisked away to avoid triggering mass panic.

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