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Muslims in Germany call for action against far-right groups

4 min read

Hanau, Germany – Thursday’s attack in the small western city of Hanau has deepened fears in Germany that minority communities are vulnerable to fascist and Islamophobic violence, and has raised questions about how much state authorities are doing to combat any threat.

The killings of 10 people, mostly with immigrant backgrounds, has also prompted a backlash against the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which one senior politician said should be placed under surveillance.

At Friday prayers on the outskirts of the city, attendees continued to pay respects to the dead, with some members of the local Kurdish community asking what action could be taken to prevent another attack.

“We don’t believe yet that this mentality has been spread everywhere; we know that there’s still a society that likes its diversity,” said Mohamed Erkelen, shortly after leading prayers for one of the victims.

“The fascist mentality and fascist organisations do not have a place in this society,” he told Al Jazeera, adding that political figures need to take stronger action to ease concerns among minority groups.

Tobias Rethjen, the 43-year-old killer from Hanau, posted a number of far-right conspiracy videos on YouTube, as well as publishing a lengthy manifesto on social media, in which he espoused racist and eugenicist views, Germany’s federal prosecutor said.

On Wednesday night, Rathgen burst into a shisha bar in the central area of Haumarkt, gunning down at least three people before driving to the west of the city and killing five more at another shisha bar and a small shop nearby. He then returned to his apartment, shooting dead his 72-year-old mother and then himself.

Police are investigating whether Rathjen had any contact with or support from other organisations or individuals who advocated violence. Officials confirmed they had received a letter from him last November, but it did not contain any direct threats of violence and no further action was taken.

Ali Unvar’s cousin, Fehrad, was shot dead while buying cigarettes. He is convinced that police reports of Rethjen scouting the scene of the second shooting in the days before the attack is evidence that he meant to target Muslims or Arabs.

“The location he searched, it’s often the meeting point for [people with immigrant backgrounds], young people from Kurdistan, from Turkey, from Arabic states,” Unvar told Al Jazeera. “He had racist opinions – that’s why he went to this location.”

Before he spoke at a rally in Hanau’s main square on Thursday night, calling the murders an “act of terror”, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier met with families of the victims, including Unvar.

“The words were lovely and good, but they have to do something,” he said. “We don’t want the names of Fehrad and the others that died to be lost in two weeks. Actions must follow words.”

The attack follows several high-profile incidents of far-right militancy in Germany, including the murder of politician Walter Lubcke in Kassel last June and a shooting at a synagogue in Halle in October that left two dead.

Last week, police arrested 12 neo-Nazis across several German states, believed to have been part of a cell coordinating attacks against multiple mosques, apparently influenced by the Christchurch massacre in New Zealand last year.

“One person carried out the shooting in Hanau, that’s what it looks like, but there were many that supplied him with ammunition, and AfD definitely belongs to them,” Lars Klingbeil, general secretary of the Social Democratic Party, told public broadcaster ARD.

Klingbeil called for the AfD – which holds hardline anti-migrant and Islamophobic views – to be placed under surveillance by the German domestic intelligence agency. Parts of the party, including the extreme ‘Wing’ faction and its youth branch, are already under surveillance, suspected of posing a threat to democracy in the country.

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, who visited one of the murder sites in Hanau on Thursday, announced that the surveillance and presence of police officers would be stepped up at “sensitive sites” across the country, including mosques, train stations, airports and borders.

“The threat posed by far-right extremism, anti-Semitism and racism is very high in Germany,” he said at a news conference in Berlin on Friday.

But for Unvar, security in Germany does not mean armed police officers at mosques, but a society that values the lives of residents, whatever their background or religion, and holds them equal.

“The police cannot be 24 hours around every Muslim and others,” he said. “[Political leaders] have to change the minds of the people in Germany … That we are all one nation and people are the same.”




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