Berlin – Sorrow, solidarity and shock are among the sentiments being expressed in Germany as the country adjusts to a mass shooting where seven people died in a Jehovah’s Witness place of worship in Hamburg.
Several other people remain in critical condition after a gunman opened fire with a semiautomatic pistol in the worship hall around 9 pm local time on Thursday.
Authorities have identified the assailant as Philipp F, a 35-year-old former member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses community who reportedly left the group about 18 months ago on bad terms. After the shootings, the gunman died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Hamburg Mayor Peter Tschentscher described the news as “devastating” while German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said at the scene of the attack that he had been left “speechless” by the incident.
Outside of Hamburg, people across Germany were shocked and saddened by the news.
Osman Oers is a founding member and imam at House of One, a faith center currently under construction in the German capital of Berlin that will be a shared religious site between Jewish, Muslim and Christian faith groups.
“All of us at House of One regret all the deaths in the community of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Hamburg,” Oers told Al Jazeera. “We – Jews, Christians and Muslims in the House of One – feel for them and include them in our prayers. I wish the bereaved families and all those who witnessed this terrible event a lot of strength and patience to overcome this horror.
Daniel Egbe, a chemistry professor, said the mass shooting was “a shocking event for Germany”.
“My first thought was that this was a racially motivated attack, which unfortunately Germany has experienced many times before, so I was very shocked to hear that it was within a religious community ,” said Egbe, who is also the founder of migrant. -focused organization African Network for Solar Energy in Halle, central-eastern Germany.
Growing calls for better measures on gun ownership
According to media reports, authorities gave Philipp F the all-clear last month after they were anonymously told that he was exhibiting disruptive behavior and bringing bad feelings to the community. After police conducted an unannounced search of his home on February 7, they found no signs of mental illness and allowed him to keep his gun after being satisfied it was properly stored.
In Germany, it is legal for people aged 18 or over with no criminal history to obtain a permit to own a firearm if they meet certain legal requirements. Official figures show that there are more than 940,000 registered private gun owners in Germany, many of whom are sport shooters or hunters.
The latest shooting has increased pressure on the government to introduce stronger background checks and tighten measures on gun ownership, an issue that has been on the agenda following a series of incidents involving firearms in the past. which is several years.
In December, illegal guns were among weapons found in raids carried out on members of a far-right group suspected of trying to overthrow the German government.
Two years earlier, in February 2020, a far-right extremist killed 10 non-white Germans and wounded five others in the central city of Hanau, in what was considered one of the country’s worst attacks in recent years.
The events in Hanau follow the death of two people in a synagogue in Halle who were shot by a far-right extremist on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. That same year, politician Walter Luebcke was shot at point-blank range outside his home in central Germany by a man with far-right links who has since been jailed for life.
There is much more to be done
In light of this latest instance of gun violence, some believe more needs to be done to address gun ownership in Germany.
Nataly Jung-Hwa Han, chairwoman of the Korea Verband, a Korea-German intercultural organization based in Berlin, told Al Jazeera that Thursday’s tragedy is not something you expect to happen in the country.
“I was surprised by the news because we are used to hearing about shootings like this happening in the US, not in Germany,” he said. “But the incident shows that there is still an issue with guns being misused in the country and I don’t understand why more isn’t being done to stop guns falling into the wrong hands.
“The government should work to control gun ownership in the country and protect innocent lives from loss of gun violence,” he added.
For Egbe, the chemistry professor, more restrictions need to be put in place to monitor gun owners.
“The psychological stability of a potential gun owner should be assessed because we don’t want to end up in the situation that we see happening so often in America,” he said.
For Oers, the imam in Berlin, the incident further highlighted the dangers facing religious communities.
“We were all deeply shaken by the violent uprising in Hamburg. The attack once again illustrates that more attention must be paid to the protection and security of religious communities in Europe. Awareness should also be raised here,” he said.