German police at the scene of a shooting at a Jehovah's Witnesses building in Hamburg, March 9, 2023.
Hamburg – During an attack in the prayer hall of Jehovah's Witnesses in the northern German city of Hamburg on Thursday evening, the attacker killed seven people, including an unborn child, and eventually committed suicide. This was said today at a press conference by the Hamburg Senator for the Interior, Andy Grote, whose position corresponds to the regional Minister of the Interior. Police said eight people were injured, four in serious condition. According to Grote, quick police intervention prevented further victims, even though the situation was confusing. The motive was not terrorism, but psychological problems of the attacker, a 35-year-old man from Bavaria, cannot be ruled out.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz called the event on Twitter a brutal act of violence and expressed his support for the survivors and the rescuers who intervened at the scene of the crime. Jehovah's Witnesses said in a statement that they are deeply saddened.
“Among the dead was an unborn child in the seventh month of development,” Grote said. According to the police, the fetus was female, its mother survived the attack. The others killed are four men and two women between the ages of 33 and 60. Six men and two women were injured. Among the injured were one citizen of Uganda and one of Ukraine, the others were Germans.
The police named 35-year-old Philipp F., who immigrated to Hamburg from Bavaria, as the attacker. Since last December, he has been listed as possessing a weapon, specifically a semi-automatic pistol. Back in February, the police checked him as part of a random check to see if he met the necessary conditions for possessing a weapon. He cooperated during the check-up and did not show any psychological problems, which the investigators have not yet ruled out.
In January, the police received an anonymous tip about the shooter's gun license, according to which Philipp F. was mentally ill, refused treatment and hated religious groups.
Police, city officials and the prosecutor's office described the shooting as an act of rage. However, the motive is not known, but terrorism and a political background have been ruled out. Police said he harbored considerable hatred for Jehovah's Witnesses as a former member. The police do not yet know whether he chose the victims randomly or purposefully, but they said that they were not related to the shooter.
Grote described the intervention as very quick, although the situation was quite confusing. “A smooth and quick intervention prevented more casualties,” he said. The emergency team was on the scene within a few minutes. Before the police, the attacker took refuge upstairs, where he apparently committed suicide. The police took 20 people out of the building who survived the attack without injury.
The scale of the attack in the prayer hall was described by the police as considerable. The shooter had 20 magazines with 15 shots each. By the time the police arrived, nine magazines were empty. He had more ammunition at home. He shot into the building through a window and in the parking lot had previously fired ten times at a car in which a woman was trying to drive away.
Police have set up an Internet portal where people can upload photos and videos related to the crime. The authorities have made available several crisis lines for survivors and their relatives.
The attack at a prayer hall in the Alsterdorf district took place at around 9pm on Thursday, about two hours after the meeting had started. A special unit intervened on the spot, pyrotechnicians searched the building and a police helicopter with a thermal camera monitored the area. The operation was extensive, as police initially did not know whether the attacker was alone or on the run due to conflicting information. People in the area received warning messages on their mobile phones to take cover. Almost 1,000 police officers took part in the intervention at night.
“We heard shots,” an unnamed witness told reporters. “Those shots were 12 in a row, then we saw people being carried away in black bags,” he added. In an interview with the DPA agency, one of the local residents testified that she heard four series of shots. After the shooting, several injured people also remained at the scene.
“Bad news from Hamburg. Several members of the Jehovist community became victims of brutal violence yesterday (Thursday – ČTK note),” said Scholz on Twitter this morning, who he was the mayor of this second largest German city in the past.
Other German politicians, including the mayor of Berlin, Franziska Giffey, also expressed their condolences to the bereaved. Condolences also come to Hamburg from abroad, French President Emmanuel Macron and Czech President Petr Pavel wrote on Twitter about their participation. “On my own behalf and on behalf of the citizens of the Czech Republic, I would like to express my sincere condolences to the families of the victims, the German citizens and the President of the Federal Republic of Germany,” he saidPavel. “I am deeply shaken by this brutal act, which was also committed in a church building,” Pavel added in a telegram to German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier published on the website of the Prague Castle .
Jehovah's Witnesses also commented on the event. “The religious society is deeply affected by the terrible attack on its worshipers during a service in the Kingdom Hall in Hamburg,” Jehovah's Witnesses said in a statementon their website. “We deeply sympathize with the families of the victims and also with the traumatized witnesses,” they added.
Jehovah's Witnesses, a Christian religious movement with its own interpretation of the Bible, have around eight million members worldwide. In Germany, according to DPA, almost 200,000 people report to them.
In recent years, Germany has experienced cases where attackers shot several people. For example, in February 2020, nine died in an attack by a right-wing extremist in Hanau. All the victims then had migratory roots, as did most of the injured. It was one of the worst racist attacks in Germany since World War II.