Hanau victims’ tears as Germany vows to tackle far right crisis

Hanau victims' tears as Germany vows to tackle far right crisis
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With tears rolling down her face, 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 leaving 10 people dead and many more seriously injured.

The small close-knit town of Hanau, near Frankfurt, is consumed in grief following the atrocity on Wednesday night which saw Tobias Rathjen, 43, arm himself with a Glock 17.9mm pistol and target café 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 saw thousands of people flock from across Germany to join the residents of Hanau to unite in shared grief in their 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 waitress Ms Kierpacz who was five months pregnant with her third child.

She had visited the Arena café to buy a soft drink and chips on her way home before 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 reiterated by the neice of one of the men killed in the Midnight bar, where Rathjen’s rampage started 30 minutes earlier at 10pm.

“We are utterly devastated,” 18-year-old Eda 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 along with one of his waiters Gokhan Gultekin.

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

Two other victims were Kurds while another was from Bulgaria and the youngest from Bosnia.

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

“What happened was an attack on Turks,” the 28-year-old 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 stalking 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 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 purchased a number of weapons online.

Prosecutors describe him as being “deeply racist”.

Germany’s far right party the AfD has faced mounting criticism following the attack.

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

It is not clear if they were known to each other.

Lars Klingbeil, general secretary of the Social Democrats (SPD), junior partners in the coalition government with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, has 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 which should be under constitutional surveillance.”

Green party politician Cem Özdemir added that the AfD is “the political arm of hate”.

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

In Germany’s last election the AfD became the largest opposition party winning 12.6 per cent of the vote.

In 2017 it became the first far-right party to win seats in Germany’s parliament in almost 60 years.

Its sharp rise followed its anti-immigration stance during the 2015 refugee crisis which saw over a million refugees enter 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 warned 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 a bid to prevent copycat attacks.

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

Last year pro-immigration politician Walter Lübcke 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 warned that right-wing extremism was on the rise in Germany and said the authorities had at least 24,100 individuals on its radar.

For now, as Germany comes to terms with the tragedy and looks to 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 08:15 AM



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