Wednesday, January 19

Munich shooting: police say lone attacker is among the dead



The lone gunman who killed nine people and wounded a further 21 at a shopping center in Munich before shooting himself was an 18-year-old German of Iranian descent, police have said.

Munich police had declared a cautious “all-clear” Friday night following a mass shooting in the shopping centre. The attack sparked a manhunt that shut down the entire city, as security forces hunted for a number of suspected attackers.

However, police confirmed in a press conference that the shooter had acted alone, and was dead.

A 15-year-old girl was among the dead, and several injured youngsters have been admitted to children’s hospitals in Munich, local media reported.

Police stopped trains, buses and trams, closed highways to private cars and ordered citizens to stay in their homes as they searched for suspected killers, as false rumours of fresh attacks sent panic through the city. The transport network was reopened following the all-clear.

One body found near the site of the shopping centre carnage appeared to be the gunman who killed himself, authorities said. They were using a bomb disposal robot to search the site for explosives and booby traps, a local reporter said.

The violence began just before 6pm, when a gunman opened fire at a McDonald’s restaurant outside the Olympia shopping centre, near the site of the 1972 Munich Olympic Games.

Video apparently shot outside the restaurant showed passersby fleeing in terror as a gunman with a pistol surveyed the street then calmly and indiscriminately opened fire as terrified bystanders raced for cover.

The emergency services raced to the site within minutes, but the gunman had apparently vanished from the scene. Police feared there were several attackers searched across the city, and a painstaking operation was launched to secure the shopping mall where dozens of shoppers and workers were still thought to be hiding.

For several hours, as rumours about the number and location of attackers swept through Munich, and officers went slowly from store to store, there was a desperate vigil for loved ones trapped inside.

“My 23-year-old daughter was part of a group that locked themselves inside H&M to protect themselves. I spoke to her over the phone and she was crying, but then her battery ran out,” said one father, weeping himself. He asked not to be named because of fears for his daughter.

Asked if this was a terror attack, a police spokesman said: “If a man with a gun in a shopping centre opens fire and eight people are dead, we have to work on the assumption that this was not a normal crime and was a terrorist act.”

But officials stressed that they had no details on gunman’s identity or motive.

“We’re excluding nothing but there’s no clarity at this stage, and we know nothing for sure,” Peter Altmaier, one of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s closest advisers, told local television.

She will convene a meeting of her security council, made up of senior ministers, on Saturday. He mentioned past examples of both Islamist and far-right violence. The attack comes on the fifth anniversary of Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik’s slaughter of 77 mostly young people.

Cansu Muyan, who lives near the Olympia shopping centre, said she had been inside the mall with her sister when the attack began. “I suddenly saw everyone running past. Then a shopkeeper told us all to leave as quickly as possible so we all started running as well,” she said.

Other witnesses reported hearing shots inside and outside the shopping mall, known locally as the OEZ. “I was shopping when I heard three shots, then we ran out and about 40 seconds later we heard five shots from outside,” said Florian Horn, 33.

Staff in the mall were still in hiding more than an hour after the attack, an employee told Reuters by telephone. “Many shots were fired. I can’t say how many, but it’s been a lot,” said the employee, who declined to be identified.

“All the people from outside came streaming into the store and I only saw one person on the ground who was so severely injured that he definitely didn’t survive.”

“I ran out, I was so afraid, and then some people brought me and several others into their garden and apartment where we found safety,” said Jennifer Hartel, who had lost a shoe fleeing the attack and was still shaking three hours after the violence.

The horror of the bloodshed was followed by hours of uncertainty, as police raced to track down the gunman captured on video and up to two other reported attackers.

Police used a smartphone warning system, Katwarn, to urge people to stay at home, and took to social media to ask locals and journalists not to share photos or video of police action to avoid helping any suspects on the run.

Munich residents responded by sharing pictures of pets and other cuddly animals under hashtags also used for news of the attack, and offering those stranded in the city a place to stay.

Hospitals were on emergency alert with staff, including doctors, surgeons and nurses, called in to await any casualties.

Among the parts of the city to be evacuated was Munich central station. People were reported to have screamed and scrambled over railway platforms as the police ordered them to leave the station.

Germany’s elite unit, its SAS equivalent GSG9, was flown in to support local security forces. Armed and masked but dressed otherwise unassumingly in T-shirts, trainers and shorts they were spotted in the vicinity of the local police who were on the scene within minutes of the first emergency call having been received.

It is the second attack in Bavaria in less than a week. Security forces have been on high alert after a teenage refugee attacked train passengers near the city of Würzburg with an axe and a knife, leaving two people in intensive care

Islamic State claimed responsibility for the train attack, but authorities have said the attacker was likely to have acted alone.

Flags will fly at half mast on official buildings across Germany on Saturday. The country’s interior minister, Thomas de Maizière – currently flying back from New York, will head straight to Munich on Saturday morning to form his own impression of events.

While the city was in lockdown and armed elite police poised on rooftops at locations around Munich, some older Germans were forced to recall the days when the country was terrorised by urban guerilla movement the Baader-Meinhof gang or Red Army Faction (RAF), and the terror attack on the 1972 Olympic Games.

The Olympia shopping centre is near the site of those Games, which were overshadowed by a terrorist attack in which 11 Israeli sportsmen and a German policeman were killed after being taken hostage by Palestinian terrorists.

The Foreign Office issued an alert warning British citizens in Munich to follow the instructions of the authorities.

Speaking at the UN in New York, Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, said: “Everybody is shocked and saddened by what has taken place. Our thoughts are very much with the victims, their families, with the people of Munich.”

“If, as seems very likely, this is another terrorist incident, then I think it proves once again that we have a global phenomenon now and a global sickness that we have to tackle both at source – in the areas where the cancer is being incubated in the Middle East – and also of course around the world.”