Hamburg authorities were tipped off two months ago about a man suspected of being behind a shooting at a Jehovah’s Witness hall in the city that left six people dead. However, the authorities found no reason to remove his gun.
Eight other people were injured in the shooting Thursday night, including a woman who was seven months pregnant and lost her unborn daughter in the attack, police and prosecutors said.
Police identified the alleged shooter – who killed himself after police arrived at the venue – only as Philipp F, 35, a German citizen and former Jehovah’s Witness. Police said he left the congregation “voluntarily, but apparently not on good terms”, about a year and a half ago.
Police said the motive for the attack was yet to be determined, but officers attended Philipp F’s apartment on February 7 in response to an anonymous tip received in January raising concerns about his mindset. Hamburg police chief Ralf Martin Meyer said the man “carried particular anger towards believers, especially Jehovah’s Witnesses and his former employer”.
However, officers found no reason to take away his weapon, a legally held Heckler & Koch semi-automatic pistol, and an amateur marksman’s license. There was a criminal record or ties to terrorism which would have automatically prevented possession of firearms. “The bottom line is that an anonymous tip in which someone says they fear someone is suffering from a psychological illness is not in itself a basis for (such) action,” the chief said. of the city police.
Local media in Germany reported the suspect Philipp F as Philipp Fusz. A personal website registered to that name speaks of working as a freelance consultant and growing up in the Bavarian town of Kempten in “a strict religious evangelical household.”
The gunman began firing shortly after 9 p.m. local time, first through a window in the lobby – where around 50 people were gathered – before entering. The shooter then committed suicide on the first floor of the building after police arrived. Over 100 shots were reportedly fired in the attack. The shooter had a backpack full of ammunition and a raid on his residence following the attack led to the discovery of 15 magazines loaded with 15 rounds each, and four boxes of ammunition containing another 200 rounds, said Ralf Peter Anders from the audience. the prosecutor’s office.
Gregor Miebach, who lives near the building, told German news agency NonstopNews he heard gunshots and filmed a figure entering the building through a window. In his footage, gunshots can then be heard from inside. The figure later emerges from the lobby, is seen in the courtyard, and then fires more shots through a first floor window before the lights in the room go out.
Hamburg’s top security official said a special operations unit that was near the hall, located a few miles from the city center, arrived just minutes after receiving the first emergency call to 9:04 p.m. Officers were able to separate the shooter from the congregation. “We can assume that they saved the lives of many people in this way,” Hamburg State Interior Minister Andy Grote told reporters.
The dead include four men and two women – all German nationals aged between 33 and 60 – and the unborn baby. Among the injured are a Ugandan citizen and a Ukrainian citizen, and four people were seriously injured. Chancellor Olaf Scholz said the death toll could rise.
“We are speechless in the face of this violence,” Mr. Scholz, former mayor of Hamberg, said at an event in Munich. “We mourn those whose lives were taken so brutally.”
In a statement, the community of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany said it was “deeply saddened by the horrific attack on its members at the Kingdom Hall in Hamburg after a church service.”
There have been several shootings in Germany in recent years. In 2022, an 18-year-old man opened fire during a crowded lecture at Heidelberg University, killing one person and injuring three others before killing himself. In 2020, there were two high-profile shootings, one in which six people were killed and another in which nine people died.
In the latest shooting involving a place of worship, a far-right extremist tried to force his way into a synagogue in Halle on the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur in 2019. After failing to enter, he shot dead two people nearby.
The government has come under pressure to tighten the rules, following the attacks and – more recently – after authorities uncovered an extremist network allegedly plotting an armed coup late last year. The government announced plans following the incident to crack down on gun ownership by suspected extremists and to tighten background checks. Currently, people 18 or older with no criminal history can get a license to own a firearm if they meet certain legal requirements. They must demonstrate that they are capable of doing so, in particular by proving that they need a firearm. Reasons may include being part of a sports shooting club or being a hunter. There are also regulations regarding the safe storage of the weapon.
A stricter gun control law that Berlin is preparing provides for all potential owners to undergo a psychological fitness test, Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said on Friday during a visit to the scene of the shooting. .