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Germany underestimated far-right terror for 'too long'

March 5, 2020

The threat of far-right terror in Germany has not been taken seriously, the head of Germany's parliament told lawmakers in the wake of the Hanau attacks. Wolfgang Schäuble said the violence did not occur in a vacuum.

Hnad grenade with flag of Germany
Image: picture-alliance/blickwinkel/McPHOTO/C. Ohde

Germany must admit that it underestimated the threat of far-right terror for too long, the president of the Bundestag told lawmakers on Thursday.

The country must do more to smash far-right networks, while also addressing the problem of Islamophobia in society, Wolfgang Schäuble told Germany's lower legislature.

Read more: After attack, Hanau takes a stand against racism

Schäuble, addressing a parliamentary debate on the Hanau attacks, called for "sincerity from the state, which must admit to having underestimated the extreme right-wing danger for too long."

"The decisive answer to this must be to uncover radical networks with all constitutional means and to smash right-wing extremist associations," said Schäuble, adding that the state must "finally get better at consistently enforcing the law".

DW's Michaela Küfner followed proceedings in the Bundestag and said that this was "the moment it was recognized that the [far-right] threat had, in teh past, been a lot larger than was publicly debated."

The perpetrator of the Hanau attack killed nine people with foreign roots at both a cafe and a shisha bar in the city. Authorities judged the murders to have been racially-motivated.

Hanau residents want protection

Schäuble said that such crimes "do not happen in a vacuum" but in a "poisoned social climate in which resentment towards 'otherness' — and the most absurd conspiracy theories — are stoked."

Minorities had been demonized to such an extent, Schäuble said, that hate campaigns — and even murder — were accompanied by "perverse applause on social networks."

Read more: 'Ferhat wanted to do something good for Hanau'

He also addressed the topic of Islamophobia. "Nothing justifies belittling, denigrating, persecuting, attacking people because of their origin or belief," said Schäuble, while adding that people's concern about immigration and social change needed to be taken seriously.

The killing spree in Hanau — near the city of Frankfurt — ended when the 43-year-old German gunman returned home, killing his mother before turning the pistol on himself. Thousands joined protests against far-right violence in the wake of the attacks, with many accusing the far-right Alternative for Germany(AfD), which holds 91 of 709 seats in Germany's lower house, of having fueled resentment

Social Democrat lawmaker Aydan Özoguz told DW that the session had been important to show solidarity with the victims.

"It seemed to many people… that when you attack a Muslim, or when you attack a Jew, then it's only against that group," said Özoguz. "What was really quite clearly said today here from every party — almost, except for the AfD — is that it is an attack against democracy, it is an attack against the whole of society and we have to stand together."

During an emotional debate session, the AfD rejected any blame for the attack, claiming that the failure of mainstream parties had led to rising extremism.

A memorial service for the victims was held on Wednesday, attended by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

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Richard Connor Reporting on stories from around the world, with a particular focus on Europe — especially Germany.