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.
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.
- Shootings in Germany: What we know so far about suspected far-right shisha bar attacks
- German city Hanau reels after mass shooting
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.
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.