Berlin – Grief, solidarity and shock are among the sentiments expressed in Germany as the country faces a mass shooting in which seven people died at one Jehovah’s Witness place of worship in Hamburg.
Several other people remain in critical condition after a gunman fired a semi-automatic pistol into the worship hall around 9 p.m. 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 allegedly left the group about 18 months ago on bad terms. After the shooting, the shooter died turning the gun on himself.
Hamburg Mayor Peter Tschentscher called the news “shattering” while German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told the site of the attack that he was left “speechless” over the incident.
Outside of Hamburg, people across Germany were shocked and saddened by the news.
Osman Oers is a founding member and imam of the House of One, a religious center being built in the German capital of Berlin that will become a shared religious site between Jewish, Muslim and Christian faith groups.
“All of us at House of One regret all of the deaths in the Jehovah’s Witness community in Hamburg,” Oers told Al Jazeera. “We – Jews, Christians and Muslims of the One House – feel for them and include them in our prayers. I wish the bereaved families and all those who witnessed this terrible event much strength and patience to overcome this horror.
Daniel Egbe, a chemistry professor, said the mass shooting was “a shocking event for Germany”.
“My initial assumption was that this was a racially motivated attack, which Germany has unfortunately experienced many times before, so I was deeply shocked when I heard it was within of a religious community,” said Egbe, who is also the founder of the migrant. -organization focused on the African network for solar energy in Halle, in central-eastern Germany.
Growing calls for better measures on gun ownership
According to media reports, authorities had given the green light to Philipp F last month after being informed anonymously that he was acting disturbingly and that he held a grudge against the community. After police carried out an unannounced check at his home on February 7, they found no signs of mental illness and allowed him to keep his gun after making sure it was properly stored.
In Germany, it is legal for people aged 18 or over with no criminal history to obtain a license 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 carry out tougher background checks and tougher gun possession measures, an issue that was already on the agenda at the following a series of incidents involving firearms in recent years.
In December, illegal firearms were among weapons found in raids 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 injured five others in the central city of Hanau, in what is considered one of the worst racially motivated attacks in the country in recent years.
The events in Hanau followed the deaths of two people at 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 dead at point-blank range outside his home in central Germany by a far-right-linked man who has since been jailed for life.
We need to do more
In the wake of this latest case of gun violence, some believe more needs to be done to tackle gun ownership in Germany.
Nataly Jung-Hwa Han, president of Korea Verband, a German-Korean cross-cultural organization based in Berlin, told Al Jazeera that Thursday’s tragedy was not something one would expect to happen in the country.
“The news took me by surprise because we are used to hearing shootings like this happen in the United States, not in Germany,” she said. “But the incident shows that there is still a problem of gun misuse in the country and I cannot understand why more is not being done to prevent guns from falling into the wrong hands.
“The government must redouble its efforts to control gun ownership in the country and to prevent innocent lives from being lost to gun violence,” she 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 needs to be tested because we don’t want to get into the situation that we see so often happen in America,” he said.
For Oers, the Imam of Berlin, the incident also highlighted the risks faced by religious communities.
“The rampage in Hamburg has shaken us all very much. The attack illustrates once again that more attention needs to be paid to the protection and safety of religious communities in Europe. Awareness needs to be raised about this too,” said he declared.