German mass shooter turned on his former religious community, say police


German police said the man who went on a shooting spree at a Jehovah’s Witnesses hall in Hamburg on Thursday night killing seven people was a former member of the community who had left it “on bad terms”.

The attack triggered widespread horror and outrage in a country where mass shootings are rare. Andy Grote, Hamburg’s interior minister, called it “the worst crime in the modern history of our city”.

Seven people died in the attack, including a pregnant woman, and eight were wounded, four of them seriously. The perpetrator, who apparently turned his gun on himself, was among the dead.

Thomas Radszuweit, head of Hamburg’s state protection service, said it had so far not been possible to establish a motive for the crime.

However, he said the killer, identified only as Philipp F, aged 35, had been a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses community he targeted and had voluntarily left it about 18 months previously “on bad terms”.

Police said many more people might have died but for the swift arrival of law enforcement officers at the scene. They arrived at 9.08pm, just four minutes after the first calls were made to emergency services, and included a special unit trained to deal with mass shootings.

Once police entered the building, the shooter fled to the first floor and shot himself. Police discovered his body on the floor, a handgun by his side.

Investigators who searched the shooter’s flat in Hamburg late on Thursday night discovered 15 loaded magazines, each containing 15 bullets, and four additional boxes with 200 bullets. They also confiscated the killer’s laptops and smartphones.

Officials said Philipp F, who was single and came from the Bavarian town of Memmingen but had lived in Hamburg since 2014, had a firearms licence as a “sports marksman”. He owned a Heckler & Koch P30 handgun, which he used in the shooting.

Ralf Martin Meyer, Hamburg’s chief of police, said authorities had received an anonymous complaint about Philipp F in January, asking them to check whether he should be allowed to hold a firearms licence.

The author of the letter believed Philipp F “might be suffering from a mental illness, although it had not been medically diagnosed”. The person said Philipp F “nurtured a deep anger towards religious people, especially Jehovah’s Witnesses, and his former employer”.

In February, police visited Philipp F’s flat unannounced to follow up on the complaint but didn’t find anything untoward. The man was “co-operative” and had an “open conversation” with the police officers.

German chancellor Olaf Scholz, a former mayor of Hamburg, described the attack as a “brutal act of violence”, adding that his thoughts were “with [the victims] and their loved ones”.

The official website of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany, whose members number about 170,000, said in a statement that the community was “deeply saddened by the horrific attack”.

Though mass shootings are rare in Germany, their incidence has increased slightly in recent years. In October 2019, a far-right extremist killed two people in an attack outside a synagogue in the city of Halle on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar.

In February 2020, an extremist in the western city of Hanau shot and killed nine people, mostly from immigrant communities, before turning his gun on his 72-year-old mother and then himself.


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