German gunman kills six at Jehovah’s Witnesses hall in Hamburg


HAMBURG, Germany (Reuters)  Six people died after gunmen stormed a church at the former hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany, killing themselves after police arrived in the port city of Hamburg.

Police did not disclose a motive for the attack on Thursday night. However, he recently received anonymous information claiming that the man identified as the shooter has shown anger toward Jehovah’s Witnesses and may not be mentally fit to own a weapon.

Eight people were injured, including a woman who lost her baby at 28 weeks’ gestation. Prime Minister Olaf Scholz said the death toll could rise. Police entered the hall during the attack and heard another gunshot, according to witnesses and officials. They did not fire their guns, but officials said their intervention likely prevented further deaths in a boxy building next to an auto repair shop miles from downtown. 

Hamburg’s former mayor, Scholz, said the city was “speechless by this violence” and “mourned those who were brutally killed”.

All victims were German citizens, except for his two women who were wounded, one of Ugandan nationality and another of her Ukrainian nationality.

Officials said the alleged attacker was a 35-year-old German man who was identified only as Philipp F. under the country’s privacy rules. Police said he left the community about a year and a half ago “voluntarily, but apparently not on good terms.” A website registered with the person’s name, which matches the police description, says he was raised in a “strictly religious evangelical household” in Kempten, Bavaria.

The site, full of business terms, also links to a self-published book on “God, Jesus His Christ, Satan.”

According to police, Philip F. said he was in legal possession of a Heckler & Koch P30 semi-automatic pistol. He fired more than 100 shots in the attack, and a search of the man’s apartment found hundreds more, said Ralph Peter Anders, head of the Hamburg Public Prosecutor’s Office.

Germany has tougher gun laws than the US but is more lenient than its European neighbours, and shootings are not uncommon.

Last year, he killed himself after an 18-year-old man opened fire during a packed lecture at Heidelberg University, killing one and wounding three. In 2020, the country witnessed two high-profile shootings, one killing six people and another killing nine.

In a recent chapel shooting incident, a right-wing extremist tried to force his way into a synagogue in Halle on his 2019 Jewish holiday Yom Kippur. After a failed break-in, he shot two people nearby.

Last year, the federal government announced plans to crack down on gun ownership and strengthen background checks on suspected militants. Anyone wishing to acquire a firearm must now prove their eligibility, including proof of need for a firearm. The reason is to become a member of a sports shooting club or become a hunter.

Hamburg police chief Ralph Martin Meyer said in January that officers were “particularly offended by religious adherents, especially Jehovah’s Witnesses and his former employer,” after receiving anonymous information that officers had He said he visited a man.

Officers said the man was cooperative and saw no reason to remove the gun, Meyer said.

A top German security official placed wreaths outside a hall to commemorate the victims and thanked police before answering reporters’ questions.