Munich Terrorist Attack; City On Lockdown
Munich Terrorist Attack; City On Lockdown
By Joern Poltz and Jens Hack
MUNICH (Reuters) – Gunmen opened fire in a busy mall in the German city of Munich on Friday evening, killing at least eight people and sending shoppers running for their lives in the third attack against civilians in Western Europe in eight days.
Authorities told the public to get off the streets as the city – Germany’s third biggest – went into lockdown with transport halted and highways sealed off.
A police spokesman said up to three gunmen were on the run after the initial shooting. The Bavarian capital was placed under a state of emergency as police hunted for them and special forces deployed in the city.
“We are telling the people of Munich there are shooters on the run who are dangerous,” he said. “We are urging people to stay indoors.”
Police said eight people had been killed and an undetermined number wounded. A ninth body had also been found about 1 km (0.6 miles) from the scene and they were checking to see it was one of the gunmen.
Munich newspaper TZ said one of the shooters was dead. German news magazine Focus said a gunman had shot himself in the head.
At the height of the incident, people in the Olympia shopping center either fled or sought to hide.
“Many shots were fired, I can’t say how many but it’s been a lot,” said a shop worker hiding in a store room inside the mall.
It was the third major act of violence against civilians in Western Europe in eight days. Previous attacks in France and Germany were claimed by the Islamic State militant group.
A police spokesman said there was no immediate indication that it was an Islamist attack but it was being treated as a terrorist incident.
Friday is also the fifth anniversary of the massacre by Anders Behring Breivik in Norway in which he killed 77 people. Breivik is a hero for far-right militants in Europe and America.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the motive for the attack was not yet clear.
“The motives for this abhorrent act have not yet been completely clarified – we still have contradictory clues,” Steinmeier said in a statement.
IS SUPPORTERS CELEBRATE
There was no immediate claim of responsibility but supporters of Islamic State celebrated on social media.
“The Islamic state is expanding in Europe,” read one Tweet.
Two witnesses told n-tv television that they saw a man dressed as Santa Claus walking away from the scene of the shooting with a crowd of people. One said the man had blonde hair, was not carrying a weapon but had a suitcase.
A video posted online, whose authenticity could not be confirmed, showed a man dressed in black outside a McDonalds by the roadside, drawing a handgun and shooting towards members of the public.
Witnesses had seen shooting both inside the mall and on nearby streets, police said.
Several hours after the shooting, police said it was unclear if the shooters were still in Munich. As night closed in, the streets of the city were largely deserted.
Thousands of people had been crowding the streets and squares in Munich’s city center in the afternoon, clinking glasses, eating sausages, and listening to bands at a beer festival.
The festival was meant to last until Sunday but was evacuated shortly after the attack.
Elena Hakes, wearing a blue traditional dress, had been with a friend in the Odeonsplatz square.
“We heard what had happened and decided to leave, it just seemed not befitting anymore to continue partying.”
“Most of the people were very calm and composed. There were a few people who came running towards us who were screaming and in panic. But mostly it was surprisingly calm.”
Munich’s main railway station was evacuated. BR television said police had sealed off many highways north of Munich and people were told to leave them.
The shopping center is next to the Munich Olympic stadium, where the Palestinian militant group Black September took 11 Israeli athletes hostage and eventually killed them during the 1972 Olympic Games.
Friday’s attack took place a week after a 17-year-old asylum-seeker assaulted passengers on a German train with an axe. Bavarian police shot dead the teenager after he wounded four people from Hong Kong on the train and injured a local resident while fleeing.
German Justice Minister Heiko Maas told Bild newspaper’s Friday edition before the mall attack that there was “no reason to panic but it’s clear that Germany remains a possible target”.
The incidents in Germany follow an attack in Nice, France, on July 14 in which a Tunisian drove a truck into crowds celebrating Bastille Day, killing 84. Islamic State claimed responsibility for that attack.
The Munich assault was also reminiscent of Islamist militant attacks in a shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, in September 2013 and in Mumbai, India, in November 2008.
Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende said on Twitter: “Horrible killings in Munich. Taking place on the same day as we mourn & remember the appalling terror that hit Norway so hard five years ago.”
U.S. President Barack Obama pledged support for Germany.
“We don’t yet know exactly what’s happening there, but obviously our hearts go out to those who may have been injured,” Obama said.
(Reporting by Michelle Martin, Joseph Nasr, Tina Bellon, Andrea Shalal, Christina Amann, Karin Strohecker, Editing and writing by Robin Pomeroy, Angus MacSwan and Hugh Lawson)