Germany's Angela Merkel 'firmly' rejects calls to reverse refugee policy after attacks

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has maintained her views on the country's refugee policy, despite a spate of recent attacks.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has maintained her views on the country's refugee policy, despite a spate of recent attacks.PHOTO: EPA

BERLIN (AFP, REUTERS) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday (July 28) "firmly" rejected calls to reverse her welcoming stance toward refugees following a series of brutal attacks in the country.

Dr Merkel told reporters that the assailants "wanted to undermine our sense of community, our openness and our willingness to help people in need".

"We firmly reject this," she said.

She said that terrorists wanted to reduce Germany's readiness to take in refugees but she added that her government was against that.

She was speaking after a spate of recent attacks in the south of the country.

"The terrorists want to make us lose sight of what is important to us, break down our cohesion and sense of community as well as inhibiting our way of life, our openness and our willingness take in people who are in need," she told a news conference.

"They see hatred and fear between cultures and they see hatred and fear between religions. We stand decisively against that," she added.

Dr Merkel, who interrupted a summer holiday at her cottage north of Berlin to face the media in the capital, told reporters that four brutal assaults within a week were "shocking, oppressive and depressing" but not a sign that the authorities had lost control.

"Taboos of civilisation are being broken," she said, referring to a series of deadly attacks in France, Belgium, Turkey and the US state of Florida as well as Germany. "These acts happened in places where any of us could have been."

But she repeated her rallying cry from last year when she opened the borders to people fleeing war and persecution, many from Syria, which brought nearly 1.1 million migrants and refugees to the country in 2015.

"I am still convinced today that 'we can do it' - it is our historic duty and this is a historic challenge in times of globalisation," she said. "We have already achieved very, very much in the last 11 months."

Dr Merkel also said she believed she had acted correctly after the spate of attacks, responding to questions about why she had not visited the attack sites by saying she would attend a memorial ceremony on Sunday in Munich.

"That's a question that I obviously ask myself whenever something happens. I will be at the memorial ceremony in Munich on Sunday - I decided last Saturday to go to that memorial ceremony," she said.

"The interior minister was in Munich the day after the shooting spree (there). A decision has to be taken on this each time and perhaps some members of the public have a different view to the way I decided to do things," she added.

Dr Merkel was speaking after a axe rampage, a shooting spree, a knife attack and a suicide bombing stunned the country, leaving 13 dead, including three assailants, and dozens wounded. Three of the four attackers were asylum seekers, and two of the assaults were claimed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). While the German political class has largely called for calm, opposition parties and rebels from

Dr Merkel's own conservative bloc have accused her of exposing the country to an unacceptable level of risk without stricter controls on new arrivals.

"Islamist terrorism has unfortunately arrived in Bavaria," the state's Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann told reporters Thursday, renewing calls by his Christian Social Union party for an upper limit on new asylum seekers let into Germany. "We are awaiting urgent action from the federal government and Europe - now is the time to act."

The deadliest attack came on Friday when a German-Iranian teenager who was born and raised in Munich opened fire at a downtown shopping mall, killing nine people before turning the gun on himself.

He had been under psychiatric treatment and investigators say he was obsessed with mass shooting, including Norwegian righ-wing fanatic Anders Behring Breivik's 2011 massacre.

They have ruled out an Islamist motive, saying the assailant had far-right "sympathies".

On July 18, an asylum seeker from Afghanistan or Pakistan slashed train passengers and later a passer-by with an axe and a knife in Wuerzburg before being shot by the police.

And on Sunday, a Syrian failed asylum seeker blew himself up outside a music festival, wounding 15 people at a nearby cafe after being turned away from the packed open-air venue. ISIS claimed both attacks.

Already steeped in grief and shock, Germans were further rattled by news that a Syrian refugee had killed a 45-year-old Polish woman with a large kebab knife at a snack bar in the southwestern city of Reutlingen on Sunday in what authorities called a personal dispute.