BERLIN – Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday said Germany must overcome the “poison” of racism after a gunman killed 10 people in attacks linked to far-right extremism that targeted patrons of hookah bars.
In a televised speech, Merkel said that while it is too early for a final assessment of Wednesday night’s shootings in the town of Hanau, about 15 miles east of Frankfurt, there were many indications that the perpetrator acted with right-wing extremist, racist motives.
It was around 10 p.m. that the suspect, who authorities said was a licensed gun owner, opened fire on patrons at a hookah bar called Midnight in central Hanau.
Police said the suspect sped off in a dark vehicle before opening fire at a second venue, Arena Bar and Cafe. Such lounges and cafes, where customers gather to smoke waterpipes, also known as hookahs, are popular with residents of Middle Eastern origin. Nine people were killed at the two establishments, police said. Five held Turkish citizenship, Turkey’s state news agency Anadolu reported, citing Ankara’s ambassador to Berlin.
Not long after the twin shootings, authorities said the suspect was found dead in his home along with his mother. The events unfolded with echoes of what has become grimly familiar. Videos and documents had been posted online, thick with conspiracy theories and rants against immigrants.
German authorities said they have stepped up their monitoring of far-right groups in recent months after several deadly incidents. In June, a politician known as a vocal supporter of asylum seekers was shot dead. In October, a shooter tried to attack a synagogue in the German city of Halle on Yom Kippur, turning his homemade weapon on passersby and a nearby kebab shop as he failed to gain entry.
Earlier this week, German police they arrested 12 members of a far-right group planning attacks on mosques and targets associated with refugees and asylum seekers, drawing inspiration from last year’s mosque attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand, that killed more than 50 people.
“Racism is a poison; hate is a poison,” Merkel said. “This poison exists in our society, and it’s to blame for too many tragic events.”
The suspect was identified in German press reports as Tobias R., 43. Police and prosecutors said they could not comment on reports that the shooter left behind documents and video that indicated a confused, extreme-right, anti-immigrant ideology.
“Not everyone who has a German passport is purebred and valuable,” read one document purported to have been written by the suspect that was shared by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at King’s College London, which said it has confirmed the document’s authenticity. “I can imagine cutting the population in half.”
A senior German security official confirmed that a rambling video posted online last week is being investigated, as it is believed to show the suspect. In it, the man addresses the camera in what he says is a “message” to Americans.
“Your country is under control of invisible secret societies,” he said, warning about “mind-control” and the “mainstream media.” He called on U.S. citizens to “fight now.”
Germany is facing efforts to “split the country” Merkel said, adding that her thoughts were with the families of the victims. “We do not differentiate citizens by origin or religion.”
Germany’s federal prosector said Thursday that a “xenophobic” motive is suspected in the overnight shootings. After the body of the suspected attacker was found in his home, police said there were “no indications of further perpetrators.”
Peter Beuth, the regional interior minister, told reporters that prosectors have classified the incident as a “suspected terroristic act of violence.”
Police swarmed the town of just under 100,000 people on Wednesday night as the shooting unfolded, while helicopters circled overhead. Authorities said they were initially searching for “unknown perpetrators” and appealed for witnesses to come forward.
Three people were shot dead at the Midnight hookah bar, local broadcaster Hessenschau reported, adding that a total of eight or nine shots were fired.
Shortly thereafter, five people were fatally shot in the Kesselstadt area just west of the town center, it said. Images from the scene showed police cordons and an ambulance outside the Arena Bar and Cafe. Behind red police tape, at least one car was visible, covered in thermal foil with its windows shattered.
“Racism is a cancer,” tweeted Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin. He said he expected German authorities to maximize efforts to shed light on the incident.
Katja Leikert, who represents the Hanau district in Germany’s national parliament, the Bundestag, called the shooting a “horrific scenario.”
“On this terrible night in Hanau I send those close to the victims all my strength and heartfelt condolences,” she said on Twitter. “Hopefully the injured recover swiftly. It is a horrific scenario for us all. Thanks to emergency services.”
Hanau Mayor Claus Kaminsky told the Bild newspaper that it was “barely possible to imagine a worse evening.”
“This was a terrible evening,” he said, “that I am sure we will be dealing with and remembering with sadness for a long, long time.”
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The Washington Post’s Reis Thebault in Washington contributed to this report.