Munich mall shooting: Why it may finally end Germany's openness and further destabilise Europe

The third attack in eight days on civilians in western Europe, this time by a teenage German-Iranian gunman who killed nine people including children and injured 21 in a shooting rampage at a busy Munich mall and then committed suicide, is sure to ramp up pressure on a beleaguered Angela Merkel to stop her open-border policy.

The European Union, grappling with the biggest migration crisis since World War II, wounded and high-strung after repeated Islamist terror attacks and weakened by Britain's impending exit, looks to the German Chancellor to provide leadership through choppy, uncharted waters.

But a recent spate of terror strikes on European soil (Paris, Brussels) and the second successive one in Germany in a week — an axe-wielding asylum-seeker on Monday hacked at passengers on a train near the Bavarian town of Würzburg, grievously injuring five before being shot — will further strengthen the domestic backlash against Merkel's highly controversial move to take in millions of refugees in a single year from not just war-ravaged Syria but also from Middle East, Africa, Balkans and even south Asia.

The sheer number overwhelmed the German migration system and authorities were forced to take in many refugees without any checking of documents. Merkel's critics and even German intelligence agency officers pointed out the possibility that the Islamic State may exploit her openness and grand gesture by planting jihadists among the migrants.

Even if the improbable is assumed, that not a single Islamist radical with direct ISIS link had sneaked in, Germany opened itself to the vulnerability that individuals who share a hatred for the West and its lifestyle could get self-radicalised by ISIS propaganda and launch lone-wolf attacks.

Munich police patrol the streets to find the shooter. DPA via AP

Munich police patrol the streets to find the shooter. DPA via AP

Hans-Georg Maassen, head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, warned the Chancellor in February "terror risk is very high".

"I am concerned about the high number of migrants whose identities we don’t know because they had no official documents when they entered the country."

The prediction proved eerily true when last Monday a 17-year-old Riaz Khan, who had checked in as an Afghan but was later suspected to be a Pakistani economic migrant, shouted 'Allahu Akbar' and tried to behead train passengers. Khan lived with Roman Catholic foster parents in a village near Ochsenfurt. In his room, police discovered a hand-painted Islamic State flag and a note in an exercise book saying: "Pray for me that I can take revenge on these infidels and go to paradise."

Now at this point, there is nothing to indicate that the Munich attack was carried out by an ISIS operative or even someone inspired by the terror group.

Munich police said on Saturday that the 18-year-old shooter's motive was "completely unclear" though the US and France have already issued statements condemning the "terrorist" attack.

"The terrorist attack that struck Munich killing many people is a disgusting act that aims to foment fear in Germany after other European countries," France President Francois Hollande said in a statement.

“The perpetrator was an 18-year-old German-Iranian from Munich,” police chief Hubertus Andrae told reporters after the massacre Friday that left 10 people dead including the gunman.

"The motive or explanation for this crime is completely unclear.”

Andrae said the shooter – who opened fire at a McDonald's restaurant and a busy shopping plaza near Munich's Olympic stadium before turning the gun on himself – had dual citizenship and “no criminal record”. His body was found about one kilometre from the shopping centre. He died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to his head.

Former Islamist radical-turned social reformer Maajid Nawaz has pointed out that the fact that the perpetrator was a German-Iranian — means he is likely to be of the Shia sect — which raises doubts over him being an operative of Sunni-dominated Islamic State. Nawaz, a British activist, columnist and politician and the founder of London-based Quilliam, the world’s first counter-extremism organisation, also pointed out that jihadi attackers mostly do not commit suicide by shooting themselves. According to him, Islamist ideologies strictly prohibit suicide which is different from using one's own body as a weapon to kill others, as in suicide bombing.

In line with this theory, some analysts have pointed out that the bloodshed could even be an act of domestic violence inspired by anti-immigrant sentiment.

Whether or not if the attack on Bavarian capital was an act of Islamist terrorism or an example of right-wing violence, fact remains that it will have a heavy bearing on Merkel and her ability to provide leadership through the crises.

Recent state elections in Germany saw a huge spike in support for anti‑immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, the clearest indication that Germans are not happy with the prospect of integrating a million migrants and refugees from the wars in Iraq and Syria.

Merkel's humanism to embrace the migrants with open arms also highlights a curious dichotomy in German politics. Her action is a valiant attempt to right the wrongs of the past where the German state caused the death and displacement of millions. But in this act of greatness, she is paying a heavy political price.

The Munich attack therefore not only makes Merkel even more vulnerable, it harms further the stability of a stuttering European Union.

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Updated Date: Jul 23, 2016 15:24:25 IST

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