Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 6 April 2020

Hanau victims' tears as Germany vows to tackle far-right crisis

Germany unites against race hate as 10 people are killed in a gun rampage

People gather in front of the Arena Bar to commemorate the victims of the shooting. Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images
People gather in front of the Arena Bar to commemorate the victims of the shooting. Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images

With tears rolling down her face and surrounded by dozens of floral tributes, the sister of murdered pregnant mother of two, Mercedes Kierpacz, asked why her “loving and kind sister” was taken.

Jasmine Kierpacz’s question is echoed across Germany as the nation tries to come to terms with how a far-right extremist was allowed a gun licence and was able to unleash a killing spree that left 10 people dead and many more seriously wounded.

The small, close-knit town of Hanau, near Frankfurt, is consumed by grief after the atrocity on Wednesday night in which Tobias Rathjen, 43, armed himself with a Glock 17 9mm pistol and targeted cafes and bars popular with the area’s Turkish community.

He then returned home where he killed his 72-year-old mother and himself.

A vigil held less than 24 hours after the attack drew thousands of people from across Germany to join the residents of Hanau to unite in shared grief in the town’s picturesque market square.

Many held placards denouncing Nazism and racism as pictures of those killed were held aloft by their relatives.

The tragic stories include the murder of Kierpacz, a waitress, who was five months pregnant with her third child.

She was at the Arena cafe to buy a soft drink and chips on her way home when Rathjen burst into the venue and shot her in the chest.

“It is not fair,” her sister Jasmine said.

“Why has she lost her life? She did not do harm to anyone and now she has been taken from us.”

Her sentiments were echoed by the niece of one of the men killed in the Midnight bar, where Rathjen’s rampage started 30 minutes earlier, at 10pm.

“We are utterly devastated,” Eda, 18, told The National.

“Hanau is a very family orientated place; everybody knows everyone. Nothing like this has happened here before.

“We are a town of freedom. My uncle was murdered and his friends. We know all those killed, this is a small place.

“We just feel lost. We are a Turkish family but we were all born in Germany.

“All they were doing is having a lovely evening together. We have been overwhelmed by the support and love people have shown our family.”

The owner of the Midnight bar, Sedat Gurbuz, was gunned down with one of his waiters, Gokhan Gultekin.

Fatih Saracoglu and Bilal Gokce were also named among those killed at the bar.

Two other victims were Kurds while another was from Bulgaria. The youngest victim was from Bosnia.

Waving Turkish flags, Yonca Akarsu, 28, and her friends travelled more than 100 kilometres from Mannheim to join the vigil.

“What happened was an attack on Turks,” she said.

“The public here in Germany hate racism, we are here to tell the world that Nazi terror will not be tolerated.

“This tragedy has made me so mad. We had to come and show Hanau that we stand with them.”

Footage has emerged of Rathjen studying the venues he targeted days before the attack.

The university educated bank official also released a video online containing conspiracy theories and a 24-page manifesto in which he revealed his hatred of foreigners.

Despite warning signs that he may have had mental-health ­issues, he was still assessed as being fit to hold a firearms licence.

Last October Germany banned the sale of guns to members of extremist groups.

Rathjen was a member of a rifle club and had bought a number of weapons online.

Prosecutors described him as being “deeply racist”.

The AfD, Germany’s far-right party, has faced mounting criticism since the attack.

It also emerged that the party’s leader, Alice Weidel, had been on the same business and economics course that Rathjen followed at the University of Bayreuth.

It is not clear if they knew each other.

Lars Klingbeil, general secretary of the Social Democrats, junior partners in the coalition government with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, called for the AfD to be monitored by the security services.

He said the party had contributed to a “poisoning of society”.

“One person carried out the shooting in Hanau but there were many who provided him with the ammunition, and the AfD is definitively among them,” he said.

“It is very clear that the AfD is a party that should be under constitutional surveillance.”

Green party politician Cem Ozdemir described the AfD as “the political arm of hate”.

The AfD criticised the comments, describing them as shabby, and said the attack was “neither right-wing nor left-wing terror” but was “a delusional act of a madman”.

The AfD became the largest opposition party in Germany’s last election in 2017, winning 12.6 per cent of the vote. The party became the first far-right party to win seats in the country’s parliament in almost 60 years.

Its sharp rise was built on an anti-immigration stance during the 2015 refugee crisis in which more than a million refugees entered Germany.

Jan Rathje, a political scientist at the Amadeu Antonio Foundation in Berlin, told CNN: “The AfD, as a far-right party, promotes apocalyptic far-right rhetoric, which … paints a picture of an immediate threat that has to be addressed in any way possible.”

On Friday German’s interior minister Horst Seehofer said that the far right was “the biggest security threat facing Germany” and unveiled a number of security measures to protect mosques and sensitive places in an attempt to prevent copycat attacks.

“The security threat from right-wing extremism, anti-Semitism and racism is very high,” he said.

Last year, pro-immigration politician Walter Lubcke was murdered close to Hanau by a suspected far-right extremist.

In another incident a synagogue and a kebab shop were targeted by an anti-Semitic gunman.

The German Office for Protection of the Constitution last year said that right-wing extremism was on the rise in the country and said the authorities had at least 24,100 people on their radar.

For now, as Germany comes to terms with the tragedy and looks for ways to tackle the growing threat, the words of Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the Hanau vigil will remain in the minds of many.

“We stand together and stick together,” he said. “That is the strongest remedy for hatred.”

Updated: February 22, 2020 04:12 PM

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