Hamburg attacker a known Islamist and failed asylum seeker

A woman placing a candle at a makeshift memorial of flowers and candles arranged in a peace sign outside a Hamburg supermarket where a man killed one person and wounded six others in a knife attack on Friday. Identified as a 26-year-old man of Palest
A woman placing a candle at a makeshift memorial of flowers and candles arranged in a peace sign outside a Hamburg supermarket where a man killed one person and wounded six others in a knife attack on Friday. Identified as a 26-year-old man of Palestinian origin, the attacker arrived in Germany in 2015, but was due to be deported as his application for asylum was rejected.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

HAMBURG • A migrant who killed one person and injured six others in a knife attack in a Hamburg supermarket was an Islamist known to German security forces, who say they believed he posed no immediate threat, the city's Interior Minister said yesterday.

"As far as we know... there were no grounds to assess him as an immediate danger," said Mr Andy Grote. "He was a suspected Islamist and was recorded as such in the appropriate systems, not as a jihadist but as an Islamist."

The assault on Friday risks reopening a bitter debate over refugees just two months before general elections, putting pressure on Chancellor Angela Merkel over her decision to open Germany's borders in 2015, letting more than a million asylum seekers in.

Identified as a 26-year-old man of Palestinian origin, the attacker arrived in Germany in 2015, but was due to be deported as his application for asylum was rejected.

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News website Spiegel Online named the attacker as Ahmad A, while officials said he had not filed an appeal against Germany's decision to reject his asylum application. In fact, he had helped to obtain documents to facilitate his departure from Germany. On the day of the attack, he had even gone to the authorities to ask if the identity papers had arrived.

Police chief Ralf Meyer said the suspect was "almost exemplary" in this aspect.

German officials said the attacker's motives remained unclear as he also suffered from psychological problems.

Heavily armed police who searched a Hamburg asylum seekers' shelter where the man lived did not find any weapons.

Police piecing together the assault yesterday said the man had entered the supermarket and taken a kitchen knife measuring around 20cm from the shelves.

"He ripped off the packaging and then suddenly brutally attacked the 50-year-old man who later died," said deputy police chief Kathrin Hennings.

He later wounded two other men in the supermarket before fleeing, slashing others along the way, before he was overpowered by courageous passers-by.

Witnesses said the man had brandished the bloodied knife, shouting "Allahu Akbar" ("God is Greatest") as he fled the scene, but that bystanders gave chase and flung chairs to stop him.

Yesterday, on the high street in north-east Hamburg where the assault struck, residents laid flowers and candles outside the supermarket, which was closed.

"It makes me especially angry that the perpetrator appears to be a person who claimed protection in Germany and then turned his hate against us," said Mayor Olaf Scholz.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 30, 2017, with the headline 'Hamburg attacker a known Islamist and failed asylum seeker'. Print Edition | Subscribe