German mass shooter has turned against his former faith community, police say

German police said the man who went on a killing spree at a Jehovah’s Witnesses hall in Hamburg on Thursday night, killing seven people, was a former member of the congregation who left them “on poor terms”.

The attack sparked widespread horror and outrage in a country where mass shootings are rare. Hamburg’s Interior Minister Andy Grote called it “the worst crime in our city’s recent history”.

Seven people died in the attack, including a pregnant woman, and eight were injured, four seriously. Among the dead was the perpetrator, who apparently had pointed his gun at himself.

Thomas Radszuweit, head of the Hamburg state security service, said that it had not been possible to determine a motive for the crime.

However, he said the killer, identified only as Philipp F., aged 35, was a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses community he was targeting and had voluntarily left “on bad terms” about 18 months earlier.

Police said many more people might have died had it not been for the quick arrival of police officers at the scene. They arrived at 9:08 p.m., just four minutes after the first 911 calls were made, and included a task force trained to deal with mass shootings.

When police entered the building, the gunman fled to the first floor and shot himself. Police discovered his body on the ground, a handgun at his side.

Investigators who searched the shooter’s apartment in Hamburg late Thursday evening found 15 loaded magazines with 15 bullets each and four other boxes with 200 bullets. They also confiscated the killer’s laptops and smartphones.

According to officials, unmarried Philipp F., who comes from Memmingen in Bavaria and has lived in Hamburg since 2014, has a gun license as a “sportsman”. He owned a Heckler & Koch P30 pistol which he used when shooting.

Ralf Martin Meyer, Hamburg’s chief of police, said authorities received an anonymous complaint about Philipp F in January, asking them to investigate whether he should be allowed to hold a gun license.

The author of the letter suspects that Philipp F. “possibly suffers from a mental illness, although this has not been medically diagnosed”. The person said Philipp F. harbored “a deep anger toward religious people, especially Jehovah’s Witnesses, and his former employer.”

In February, the police visited Philipp F.’s apartment unannounced to investigate the complaint, but found nothing unusual. The man was “cooperative” and had an “open conversation” with the police officers.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz, former mayor of Hamburg, described the attack as a “brutal act of violence” and added that his thoughts were “at [the victims] and their loved ones”.

The official website of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany, whose members number about 170,000, said in a statement that the congregation was “deeply saddened by the horrific attack.”

Although mass shootings are rare in Germany, their frequency has increased slightly in recent years. In October 2019, a right-wing extremist killed two people in an attack in front of a synagogue in Halle on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar.

In February 2020, an extremist shot dead nine people, mainly from migrant communities, in the western part of Hanau, before turning his gun on his 72-year-old mother and then on himself. German mass shooter has turned against his former faith community, police say

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