Germany fears more 'lone wolf' attacks after train axe rampage

Police officers walk along the track in Wuerzburg, Germany, on July 19, 2016, a day after a man attacked passengers on a train with an axe.
Police officers walk along the track in Wuerzburg, Germany, on July 19, 2016, a day after a man attacked passengers on a train with an axe.PHOTO: AFP

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany is likely to face more Islamist attacks, its interior minister said on Wednesday (July 20), although he played down any link between the government's open-door refugee policy and Monday's axe assault aboard a train in Bavaria.

Anti-immigrant party Alternative for Germany (AfD) has seized on the train attack to criticise Chancellor Angela Merkel's migrant policy, under which some 1.1 million people entered Germany in 2015, many fleeing war in Syria and beyond.

"You cannot say there is no connection between refugees and terrorism, but the danger was high before and remains high, regardless of questions about refugees," Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said.

A 17-year-old who had sought asylum in Germany was shot dead by the police after severely wounding four people from Hong Kong who were travelling on the train near the city of Wuerzburg and injuring another woman while fleeing the scene.

The perpetrator was initially thought to be Afghan but de Maiziere said on Wednesday there were indications he was from Pakistan. Officials have said the attacker came to Germany as an unaccompanied minor and registered as a refugee in June 2015 at Passau on the Austrian border.

The train attack came just four days after a Tunisian delivery man drove a truck into crowds celebrating Bastille Day in the French city of Nice, killing 84 people. Militant group the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has claimed both attacks.

Mr De Maiziere said the government had introduced a range of measures to improve security in the last year but warned that Germany should brace itself for further attacks. "Like several EU countries, like the whole EU, Germany is also in the target area of international terrorism... the situation is serious," Mr de Maiziere told reporters.

Investigations so far pointed to the train attacker being a "lone wolf" who had been spurred into action by ISIS propaganda, said Mr de Maiziere.

Police found a hand-painted ISIS flag in his room and a letter he appeared to have written to his father which officials said read: "And now pray for me that I can get revenge on these non-believers, pray for me that I go to heaven."

ISIS posted a video, described by Mr de Maiziere as authentic, in which a man whom it identifies as the refugee vows to carry out a suicide mission and urges others to do the same.

It is unclear how the youth became radicalised. He was living with a foster family and had a part-time job at a bakery.

Mr De Maiziere said Germans would have to get used to more video surveillance and police officers on the streets, and also urged mosques to help Muslims integrate.

"We need the active cooperation of Muslims living here, including the mosque communities working here. They, too, must make a contribution to integration, to prevention and to spotting the radicalisation process early on," he said.