Police alerted to suspect before Hamburg shooting
Authorities in Hamburg received a tip-off two months ago about a man suspected of being behind a mass shooting at a Jehovah’s Witness hall in the city that left six dead. However, officials found no grounds to take away his weapon. Eight other people were wounded in the shooting late on Thursday, including a
woman who was seven months pregnant and lost her unborn daughter in the attack, police and prosecutors said.
Police identified the suspected gunman – who shot himself after police arrived at the hall – only as Philipp F, 35, a German citizen and a former Jehovah’s Witness. Police said he had left the congregation “voluntarily, but apparently not on good terms,” about a year and a half ago. Police said a motive for the attack was still to be determined, but that officers had visited Philipp F’s apartment on 7 February in response to an anonymous tip received in January raising concerns about his state of mind. Hamburg’s police chief, Ralf Martin Meyer said the tip claimed the man “bore particular anger toward religious believers, in particular toward Jehovah’s Witnesses and his former employer”.
However, officers found no grounds to take away his weapon, a legally-held semi-automatic Heckler & Koch pistol alongside a permit as an amateur marksman. There was no criminal record or any links to terrorism that would have automatically prevented gun ownership. “The bottom line is that an anonymous tip in which someone says they’re worried a person might have a psychological illness, isn't in itself a basis for (such) measures,” the city police chief said.
Local media in Germany reported that the suspect Philipp F is believed to be Philipp Fusz. A personal website that is registered in that name talks about a job as a freelance business consultant and growing up in the Bavarian town of Kempten in “a strict religious evangelical household”.
The gunman began shooting shortly after 9pm local time, first through a window at the hall – where around 50 people were gathered – before entering. The gunman then took his own life on the first floor of the building after police arrived. More than 100 shots were said to have been fired during the attack. The gunman had a backpack full of ammunition and a raid on his residence in the wake of the attack led to the discovery of 15 loaded magazines with 15 cartridges each, and four boxes of ammunition containing another 200 cartridges, said Ralf Peter Anders from the public prosecutor’s office.
Gregor Miebach, who lives within sight of the building, told German television news agency NonstopNews that he heard shots and filmed a figure entering the building through a window. In his footage, shots can then be heard from inside. The figure later emerges from the hall, is seen in the courtyard and then fires more shots through a first-floor window before the lights in the room go out.
Hamburg’s top security official said a special operations unit that happened to be near the hall, situated a few miles from the city centre, arrived just minutes after receiving the first emergency call at 9.04pm. The officers were able to separate the gunman from the congregation. “We can assume that they saved many people’s lives this way,” Hamburg state Interior Minister Andy Grote told reporters. The dead include four men and two women – all German nationals aged 33 to 60 – and the unborn baby. The wounded include a Ugandan and a Ukrainian citizen, and four people suffered serious injuries. Chancellor Olaf Scholz said that the death toll could rise.
“We are speechless in view of this violence,” Mr Scholz, a former Hamburg mayor, said at an event in Munich. “We are mourning those whose lives were taken so brutally.”
In a statement, the Jehovah’s Witness community in Germany said it was “deeply saddened by the horrific attack on its members at the Kingdom Hall in Hamburg after a religious service”. There have been a number of shootings in Germany in recent years. In 2022, an 18-year-old man opened fire in a packed lecture at Heidelberg University, killing one person and wounding three others before killing himself. In 2020, there were two high-profile shootings, one in which six people were killed and another in which nine people died.
In the most recent shooting involving a site of worship, a farright extremist attempted to force his way into a synagogue in Halle on the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur in 2019. After failing to gain entry, he shot two people dead nearby.
The government has come under pressure to tighten rules, following the attacks and – most recently – after authorities
uncovered an extremist network allegedly plotting armed coup late last year. The government announced in the wake of the incident its plans to crack down on gun ownership by suspected extremists and to tighten background checks. Currently, people aged 18 or over with no criminal history can obtain a permit to own a gun if they fulfil certain legal requirements. They must show that they are suited to do so, including by proving that they require a gun. Reasons can include being part of a sports shooting club or being a hunter. There are also regulations around the weapon’s safe storage.
A law on tighter gun control that Berlin is preparing stipulates all would-be owners undergo a psychological suitability test, interior minister Nancy Faeser said yesterday on a visit to the scene of the shooting.
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