German Jewish leaders concerned after Hanau shooting leaves at least nine dead

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German Jewish leaders concerned after Hanau shooting leaves at least nine dead

Board of Deputies expresses 'deepest sympathies' with the victims of Hanau incident, as Angela Merkel cancels trip to Halle, which was the scene of an antisemitic attack last year

Forensics investigate at the scene after a shooting in central Hanau, Germany Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020. Eight people were killed in shootings in the German city of Hanau on Wednesday evening, authorities said.  (AP Photo/Michael Probst)
Forensics investigate at the scene after a shooting in central Hanau, Germany Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020. Eight people were killed in shootings in the German city of Hanau on Wednesday evening, authorities said. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

The leader of Germany’s Jewish community said he’s concerned about “the safety of minorities” in the country, after nine were killed by an alleged far-right assailant.

A man has shot and killed nine people at several locations in a Frankfurt suburb in attacks that appear to have been motivated by far-right beliefs, officials said.

The gunman, who reportedly wanted Israel eliminated, first attacked a hookah bar in central Hanau at about 10pm on Wednesday, killing several people, before heading about 1.5 miles west and opening fire again, claiming more victims.

The alleged shooter left behind a video and a 24-page manifesto in which he said certain peoples “must be completely destroyed,” according to German news reports..

Witnesses and surveillance videos of the suspect’s getaway car led authorities to his home, near the scene of the second attack, where he was found dead near his 72-year-old mother, said Peter Beuth, the interior minister for the state of Hesse.

A website believed to be the 43-year-old suspect’s is being evaluated, Mr Beuth said.

“Initial analysis of the webpage of the suspect indicate a xenophobic motivation,” he added.

He said federal prosecutors have taken over the investigation of the crime and are treating it as an act of domestic terrorism.

“This is an attack on our free and peaceful society,” he said.

In a statement Thursday morning, Josef Schuster, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said he worried about “the safety of minorities in Germany, and of those who are committed to helping them.”

Schuster and other prominent German Jews recently have said that an uptick in right-wing crimes and the rise of a far-right extremist political party, the Alternative for Germany, had made them consider leaving Germany.

Police did not know of any specific threats to Hanau’s Jewish population, Oliver Dainow, representative for the Jewish community of Hanau, told JTA Thursday morning.

The community, with some 200 members, already had beefed up security following last October’s violent attack outside the synagogue in Halle. Two passersby were killed in that attack, and the alleged perpetrator — who had tried and failed to break his way into the synagogue — was later arrested.

“For anybody who has these kinds of ideas in their head, Judaism is not far away,” Dainow told JTA.

While the most recent violent attacks have had a right-wing extremist background, Dainow said he could not point to one specific political direction as being most threatening. “There is a toxic environment in general,” he said.

In his statement, Schuster said German authorities had ignored warning signs for far too long. “It is high time that all democratic entities stand together against the threat of right-wing extremism and also of Islamist terror. Politicians, law enforcement agencies, the judiciary and civil society have to take responsibility.”

The Board of Deputies of British Jews said its “deepest sympathies are with the families of the victims of the shooting attacks in Hanau, Germany last night.

“We hope those injured recover swiftly and the authorities will focus their efforts on further combating the senseless hate which has led to this latest tragedy.”

The attack comes amid growing concerns about far-right violence in Germany.

Chancellor Angela Merkel called off a planned visit on Thursday to a university in Halle. Her spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said she was “being constantly kept abreast of the state of the investigations in Hanau”.

Halle was the site of a deadly antisemitic attack last year. A man expressing anti-Jewish views tried to shoot his way into a synagogue, failed and killed two passers-by before being arrested.

A person with a flag of Israel stands next to flowers and candles in front of a synagogue in Halle, Germany, following a terror shooting on Yom Kippur (AP Photo/Jens Meyer via Jewish News)

The shooting in Halle came months after the killing of a regional politician from Ms Merkel’s party. The suspect had a long history of neo-Nazi activity and convictions for violent crime.

Police officers earlier swarmed central Hanau, cordoning off the area of one of the shootings as a helicopter hovered overhead. A car covered in thermal foil also could be seen, with shattered glass next to it. Forensic experts in white overalls collected evidence.

Hookah lounges are places where people gather to smoke flavoured tobacco from Middle Eastern water pipes.

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