Police secure the area following a deadly shooting in Hamburg, Germany, March 9, 2023 in this still image taken from video. NONSTOP NEWS via Reuters TV/Handout via REUTERS
By Riham Alkousaa and Jan Schwartz
HAMBURG (Reuters) -A gunman in Germany shot dead six people before killing himself at a Jehovah’s Witness worship hall in Hamburg, authorities said on Friday, in an attack that is bound to renew calls for stricter gun controls.
Eight other people were wounded, including a seven-months pregnant woman who lost her unborn daughter, police and prosecutors said at a news conference.
Officials said they had been tipped off about the perpetrator but had not taken away his legally-owned gun before the shooting at an event on Thursday night.
The killer’s motive remained unknown but a political reason had been ruled out, the officials said.
Authorities identified the gunmman only as Philipp F. The 35-year-old, a German citizen and former Jehovah’s Witness, began shooting through a window at the hall, where dozens of people were gathered, before entering.
He shot himself on the first floor when police arrived minutes after the shooting started shortly after 9:00 p.m. (2000 GMT), the police said.
Germany has suffered a number of mass shootings in recent years as well as a plot by a heavily armed group that aimed to overthrow the government. Following the previous shootings, Germany introduced stricter gun ownership rules and the government has announced plans to tighten controls further.
The Hamburg shooter was known to police, who had visited his apartment prior to the attack in response to an anonymous tip raising concerns about his state of mind. But they did not have enough grounds to take away his weapon, a legally-held semi-automatic pistol made by German company Heckler & Koch, officials said.
Following the shooting, police returned to his apartment and found 15 loaded magazines of ammunition, they said.
The victims included four men and two women, and the unborn female child. The wounded included a Ugandan and a Ukrainian citizen, and four people suffered serious injuries.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are an international Christian denomination that was founded in the United States in around 1870. They are best known in many countries for their door-to-door evangelism.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses said in a statement the religious community was “deeply affected by the horrific attack on its members of the faith in a Kingdom Hall in Hamburg after a service”.
The officials said about 50 people were at an event held in the Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall in the Alsterdorf district of the city when the shooting started.
Police responded in force, with more than 950 officers deployed, partly because grainy, dark footage of the attack taken by a member of the public had made it seem like there could be a second attacker. It later emerged that the man acted alone.
The building in a residential area has been used by the group as a place of worship for several years, resident Annelore Peemueller told Reuters.
Phone footage from another resident showed a person outside the building shooting in through a window.
“I heard loud gunshots,” said the person, who declined to give his name. “I saw a man shooting at a window with a firearm.”
HISTORY OF SHOOTINGS
On Friday, people laid flowers outside the hall in remembrance. Forensic workers loaded several bodies, one in a coffin, the others in bags, into a black van.
“There were 12 continuous shots,” another unidentified witness told reporters. “Then we saw how people were taken away in black bags.”
Germany has been shaken by a number of shootings in the last few years. In February 2020, a gunman with suspected far-right links shot dead nine people, including migrants from Turkey, in the western town of Hanau before killing himself and his mother.
In October 2019, a gunman killed two people when he opened fire outside a synagogue in the eastern city of Halle on the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur.
According to the federal office of administration, there are more than 940,000 registered private gun owners in Germany.
Germany’s strong hunting and gun sports tradition is a big part of gun culture in the country. The DSB marksmen’s association has around 1.35 million shooters among its members in 14,200 clubs across the country.
The mayor of Hamburg expressed shock.
“I extend my deepest sympathy to the families of the victims. The forces are working at full speed to pursue the perpetrators and clarify the background,” Peter Tschentscher said on Twitter.