Hamburg knife attack stokes refugee debate as German vote nears
HAMBURG, Germany (4th UPDATE) – A volatile debate over refugees looked set to reopen in Germany on Saturday, July 29, weeks ahead of parliamentary elections, after a failed asylum seeker killed one person and wounded five with a knife in the northern city of Hamburg.
The 26-year-old born in the United Arab Emirates shouted "Allahu Akbar" ("God is Greatest") as he fled the scene of the attack – a neighbourhood supermarket – before being overpowered by passers-by, witnesses said.
The assault was motivated by "hate," mayor Olaf Scholz said, although he stopped short of declaring it a terrorist attack.
"These criminals want to poison our free society with fear, but they will not succeed," he added.
If confirmed as an Islamist attack, it would be the first in Germany since Tunisian Anis Amri drove a truck into crowds at a Berlin Christmas market on December 19, killing 12 and injuring 48.
Police were unable to immediately confirm the suspect's nationality or his motive. They have also been unable to confirm accounts that the man shouted "Allahu Akhbar."
News website Spiegel Online identified him as Ahmad A., who arrived in Germany seeking asylum and had contact with the Islamist scene, as well as a history of mental health problems and drug use.
The attacker had been scheduled to be deported, but the process was held up as he lacked identity papers, Scholz said.
"It makes me especially angry that the perpetrator appears to be a person who claimed protection in Germany and then turned his hate against us," he added.
Heavily armed police searched a Hamburg asylum seekers' shelter where the man lived.
Officials are due to hold a press conference at 1000 GMT on the investigation, which has been taken over by a police murder unit and a squad specialising in politically-motivated crimes.
Germany has been on high alert over the threat of a jihadist attack since Amri's rampage in Berlin, for which the Islamic State group claimed responsibility.
Jihadists have also carried out a string of random assaults in European countries using knives.
Like the Hamburg attacker, Amri was a failed asylum seeker who could not be deported for lack of documents.
Coming two months before Germany heads to the polls, the latest assault is expected to reopen the bitter debate over Chancellor Angela Merkel's decision in 2015 to open the borders, letting in more than a million asylum seekers.
"Before Mrs Merkel tweets again that this is 'beyond comprehension': this has something to do with Islam. Comprehend that once and for all!", Beatrix von Storch of the Islamophobic populist party Alternative for Germany (AfD) posted on Twitter.
AfD's support has fallen back in polling since the height of the migrant crisis, but the party remains on course to clear the threshold of five percent of the vote to enter parliament for the first time.
A day after the assault, Hamburg residents laid flowers and candles outside the supermarket, which was closed.
Recounting the shocking scenes, witness Ralf Woyna told AFP that "a crowd of about 30 people ran out of the supermarket. They yelled that someone had been stabbed... We saw a man go past with a big knife, like a butcher's knife, in his hand."
Woyna had been sitting at a cafe opposite the entrance to the shop where the chase began.
"Two customers who also looked Middle Eastern took all the chairs from the cafe and ran after him. I lost sight of them for a minute and heard a shout of 'Allahu Akbar' in the distance. I knew it was an attack straight away," he added.
A 50-year-old man, believed to be a German citizen, died from his wounds in the supermarket, while the suspect also wounded a woman and four men aged 19 to 64 with the knife.
Another 35-year-old man was hurt while overpowering the attacker in the street alongside other passers-by shortly after the killing. – Sebastian Bronst and Daphne Rousseau, Agence France-Presse / Rappler.com