Terror in Germany

Wednesday’s bloody rampage in Hanau town near Frankfurt by a suspected far-right extremist has heightened concerns over recurrent hate crimes in Germany, home to the largest number of immigrants from the recent refugee crisis. The incident, coming just days after 12 men were arrested for plotting attacks on mosques, is a chilling reminder of the threats to peace and stability in a European powerhouse. In separate attacks, the perpetrator gunned down nine people, including a pregnant woman and youngsters, in two local shisha bars, before killing himself and his mother. Authorities have established the gunman’s extreme xenophobic beliefs using online evidence, where the 43-year-old attacker had advocated the elimination of people across continents. Crucial to investigators is the similarity of the lethal weapon wielded on Wednesday to that used in the 2016 Munich mall shootings. The comparison has brought into focus the role of Germany’s intelligence agencies. While the latter have often stressed the growing number of actual and potential incidents they deal with, rights groups have called into question their level of efficiency.

The latest violence must awaken those who take the complacent view that the threat from the far-right is concentrated in Germany’s eastern regions. The State of Hesse, where Wednesday’s attack took place, was witness last year to the brutal murder of a Christian Democratic Union (CDU) official by a neo-Nazi; Walter Lübcke was targeted for his courageous defence of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s liberal refugee policy. In 2017, the mayor of Altena, in North Rhine-Westphalia province, known for admitting a larger share of asylum-seekers, narrowly escaped a knife attack. These are evidently not isolated crimes, as the Alternative for Germany (AfD), the country’s largest opposition in the Bundestag, has stepped up its anti-Islam and anti-immigration campaign. But the recent political developments in Thuringia State have exposed divisions within the CDU on the approach to ward off the threat from the far-right. The local unit’s move to side with the AfD to keep the left-wing Die Linke party out of power forced the resignation of the party chief and the country’s Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer. A party that is otherwise a staunch champion of liberal democratic values in the EU can ill-afford to dither on a question of key importance to unity within Germany and across the EU. Moreover, as a principal constituent of the European People’s Party in the EU Parliament, the German CDU must wean the group away from hardline forces, especially in Hungary and Poland. These are lessons to be learnt from the Hanau massacre.