Germany is in a state of shock following Wednesday's fatal shooting at Frankfurt Airport, which left two US airmen dead and two wounded. It appears to have been the first deadly attack with an Islamist motive on German soil.
Twenty-one-year-old Arid U. has already confessed to being the gunman and to acting alone, but that doesn't seem to be of much comfort to Germans. Instead, the incident, which took place in a public area of the airport, has highlighted just how little can be done to prevent a lone gunman from carrying out an attack.
The man, who lived in Frankfurt but was originally from Kosovo, was not previously known to authorities and appears not to have been a member of an Islamist group. However, the suspect's Facebook page, which has now been taken offline, indicates that he had contacts to Islamists from the radical Salafist movement.
More details of the attack emerged at a press conference held Friday by the Federal Prosecutor General's office, which has taken over the investigation. Rainer Griesbaum, the deputy federal prosecutor general, said there was no evidence that Arid U. had belonged to a terrorist organization, although he appeared to be influenced by Islamist thinking and had visited Islamist websites.
Griesbaum revealed that the suspect had killed his victims with eight execution-style shots to the head. Arid U. had apparently gone to the airport armed with a pistol and two knives to look for American soldiers. When he recognized a group of soldiers, he asked one of them for a cigarette and checked whether they were on their way to Afghanistan. After the airman had confirmed that they were, U. shot him in the head from behind as he turned back toward the bus.
Then, prosecutors said, U. boarded the bus and shot the 21-year-old driver dead. He then went farther into the bus and shot two other airmen, aged 25 and 21. The two men survived the attack with serious injuries, though one is still in a critical condition.
The suspect's pistol apparently jammed as he held the weapon against the head of a fifth victim and pulled the trigger. Prosecutors said it was only the gun's defect that prevented additional deaths. When the attacker tried to escape, the soldier went after him and caught him after a few meters. A number of police officers came to his assistance.
On Thursday, Arid U. was formally charged with two counts of murder and three counts of attempted murder. At Friday's press conference, prosecutors stressed that there were still many open questions surrounding the attack, and that investigations into the suspect's motives and links to the Islamist scene were ongoing. Investigators said they were also confused about how a man who seemed to have no previous experience with weapons was able to carry out the attack with such cold-blooded efficiency.
Challenge to New Interior Minister
The incident also presents a challenge to Germany's new interior minister, Hans-Peter Friedrich, who was only sworn into office on Thursday morning. He immediately expressed his shock and outrage at the attack but said there was no need to raise the alert level in Germany. His predecessor, Thomas de Maizière, had only recently relaxed public-security measures as previous fears of a Mumbai-style terror attack in Germany subsided.
Somewhat controversially, Friedrich also repeated his criticism of a much-publicized October 2010 statement by German President Christian Wulff, who said that "Islam also belongs to Germany." On Thursday, Friedrich said that the view that Islam was part of Germany was something "that could never be substantiated by historical evidence."
On Friday, commentators in Germany's main newspapers reflect on what the attack means for German society.
The conservative Die Welt writes:
"The attacker's actions confirmed the worst fears of the security authorities -- that they can't prevent the murderous plans of lone perpetrators."
"After weeks of fear of terrorism, the interior minister had only recently relaxed security arrangements. Warnings of armed attacks on public places had not come to anything, and there was no further information about planned attacks. And then this attack had to happen."
"The security authorities can not be criticized. It appears that Arid U. was not known to them. He had not drawn attention to himself by distributing propaganda or by making contact to Islamist groups under observation."
"It would, of course, be wrong to pin the blame for this attack on Islam as a religion. Around the world, many Muslims distance themselves from violence and terror. The peaceful revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia have shown that Muslim populations also long for freedom and democracy. Their magnificent victories have also been a crushing defeat for terrorism. Violent Islamists only make up a small group of people in Germany, but they are extremely dangerous. The authorities must do everything possible to monitor this group and neutralize them."
The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"The man, whose confused thoughts can be read online, apparently acted as a deranged lone perpetrator. That fact cannot, and should not, reassure us. Many of the thoughts that went through the head of this disturbed young man before he got hold of a pistol are widespread in Germany's small but opinionated Islamist scene. They include ideas such as ones saying that infidels are inferior beings, that Jews and their friends are the enemy, and that one should not be squeamish in fighting the good fight. It is a community that likes to present itself as pious, but it now has to ask itself how it came about that one of its members became willing to carry out an attack."
"The vast majority of Muslims in Germany must show that this way of thinking has no place in their mosques and associations. They have to do so for the sake of their faith and in order to rescue and preserve Islam, which must have its place in Germany. This is the real 'jihad,' the true religious struggle. The rest of German society should support the country's Muslims in that process. They need to distinguish between Muslims and murderers."
The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:
"Although many details are still unclear, everything indicates that the attack on a US military bus in Frankfurt was carried out by an anti-American Islamist. If that is true, then March 2, 2011 will go down in German history as a decisive turning point: the day of the first Islamist attack in this country. Admittedly, the incident can in no way be compared with the large-scale, laboriously planned terrorist attacks in London, Madrid and New York. But, like those attacks, it was apparently a deliberate murder committed by a disturbed religious fanatic."
"The fact that Arid U. appears not to have been a member of a jihadist group or terrorist network is of little comfort. It will never be possible to entirely prevent attacks by radicalized individuals -- unless Germany becomes a total surveillance state. And no one can want that."
"Even among the radical Salafists -- who form only a minority of Muslims -- only a very few are willing to use violence. The debate (about combating terror) is a difficult one in which shrill voices can quickly gain the upper hand ... But the issue has to be discussed. Simply ignoring the problem does not work."
The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:
"The first deadly attack with an Islamist motive in Germany comes at a time of transition. Newly appointed Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich had just been sworn in when he already had to express his shock and sorrow about the murder of two Allied soldiers at Frankfurt Airport and to assure both Americans and Germans that the incident would be quickly cleared up."
"Contrary to what some people like to continually predict, there can be no talk of Germans panicking in the face of a terrorist threat. Interior Minister Friedrich managed to make his difficult first appearance a successful one by emphasizing that there is no reason to increase the police presence across the country."
"Friedrich also showed self-confidence when he repeated -- on this day of all days -- his criticism of President Wulff's (October 2010) statement, saying there is no historical evidence for the claim that Islam belongs to Germany. Whatever the case may be, Friedrich is now the interior minister, and part of his job is helping to integrate the many Germans who practice the Muslim faith. Nevertheless, the kind of fundamentalism that showed its ugly face at Frankfurt Airport cannot be allowed to belong to Germany. It needs to be fought."
Franz Josef Wagner, a columnist for the mass-circulation daily Bild, writes:
"Dear American soldiers, your president is shocked, and we are, too. Two of your comrades became victims of Islamist violence at Frankfurt Airport, and two other soldiers are in critical condition. The perpetrator reportedly shouted 'Allahu Akbar!' ('God is great!') as he attacked you. It is the first Islamist attack in Germany."
"The terrible thing about this attack if that it is so close to our normal life. The awful truth of the Frankfurt attack is that nobody is safe any more."
-- David Gordon Smith
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