Elite German police were hunting for gunmen who went on a shooting rampage in a busy Munich shopping centre on Friday, killing eight people in a suspected terror attack.
The southern city was in lockdown after the shootings, which saw panicked shoppers fleeing the Olympia mall as armed anti-terror police roamed the streets in search of the assailants. A video posted on social media appeared to show a man dressed in black walking away from a McDonald’s restaurant while firing repeatedly on people as they fled.
Germany has so far escaped the kind of large-scale jihadist attacks seen in France and the motives and identity of the gunmen were not yet known.
“We suspect terrorism,” a Munich police spokesman told AFP. It is the third strike against civilian targets in Europe in just over a week, following an axe rampage on a train in the same German state of Bavaria on Monday and the truck attack in France on July 14.
Police said at least three shooters were still at large and reported to be armed with “long guns”.
Munich’s main train station was evacuated and metro and bus transport in the city suspended while residents were ordered to stay in their homes, leaving the streets largely deserted.
Chancellor Angela Merkel will convene her security council on Saturday to address the deadly rampage in the European economic powerhouse which took in more than one million migrants and refugees last year.
“We are determined to do everything we can so that terror and inhuman violence stand no chance in Germany,” her chief of staff Peter Altmaier said.
Some witnesses reported seeing “Arab-looking” men, while another police spokesman said the authorities had “no indication” of a possible Islamist link.
One spokesman said the body of a man had been found near the mall and investigators were trying to determine whether he was one of the assailants.
Another video appeared to show a gunman on the roof of a parking garage as he exchanged insults with people who referred to him a foreigner. “I’m German, I was born here,” the gunman is heard to reply.
The spree began before 1600 GMT (2130 IST) at the McDonald’s and continued on a nearby street before the gunmen moved into the Olympia centre--not far from the scene of the 1972 Olympics massacre.
Shoppers rushed away from the mall, some carrying children in their arms, as the building was surrounded by armed police and emergency vehicles, while helicopters buzzed overhead.
A witness speaking to rolling news channel NTV said he saw one gunman “dressed as Father Christmas and wearing sunglasses” but the account could not be immediately verified by police.
Europe has been on alert for terrorism in the wake of a string of attacks in neighbouring France and Belgium claimed by the Islamic State jihadist group.
German President Joachim Gauck said he was “horrified” by the “murderous attack”, while Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, who was on a flight to New York when the shooting began, will return to Germany.
Austria said it has “significantly” tightened security measures in states sharing a border with Germany and put its elite Cobra police force on high alert.
US President Barack Obama and French counterpart Francois Hollande voiced their support for their close ally. “Our hearts go out to those who may have been injured. It’s still an active situation, and Germany’s one of our closest allies, so we are going to pledge all the support that they may need in dealing with these circumstances,” Obama said.
The Munich mall is located near the stadium for the 1972 Olympics and the athletes’ village which was the site of the hostage-taking and massacre of Israeli athletes by the Palestinian Black September group.
The shooting comes just days after a teenage asylum seeker went on a rampage with an axe and a knife on a regional train on Monday near Wuerzburg, also in Bavaria, injuring five people, two of them critically.
De Maiziere had said the teenager was believed to be a “lone wolf” who appeared to have been “inspired” by IS but was not a member of the jihadist network.
The authorities said the attacker--believed to be Afghan or Pakistani--shouted “Allahu akbar” (God is greatest) three times as he ran through the carriage slashing passengers.
Flow of migrants
The train rampage triggered calls by politicians in Bavaria, of which Munich is the capital, to impose an upper limit on the number of refugees coming into Germany -- many of them via the southern state.
A record 1.1 million migrants and refugees were let in to Germany last year, with Syrians making up the largest group followed by Afghans.
The mall shooting comes just eight days after 31-year-old Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel used a truck to mow down 84 people, including children, in the French Riviera city of Nice.
It was the third major attack on French soil in the past 18 months, after the jihadist carnage in Paris in November 2015 and the shootings at satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket in January 2015.
In March, IS claimed suicide bombings at Brussels airport and a city metro station that left 32 people dead. In May in Germany, a mentally unstable 27-year-old man carried out a knife attack on a regional train in Bavaria, killing one person and injuring three others.