HANAU, Germany (Reuters) - German Kurds called on Thursday for stronger government action against far-right radicalism and racism as they mourned the victims of a gun attack on two shisha lounges.
“Politicians must ask themselves, ‘how did we get here?’” Metin Kan, who said he was a close friend of one of the people killed in the rampage, told Reuters.
A gunman with suspected far-right views shot dead nine people in the western town of Hanau late on Wednesday, some of them from the Turkish-Kurdish community, said officials.
Chancellor Angela Merkel talked of the “poison” of racism as she condemned the killings. President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the country was united against violence as he attended one of around 50 candlelight vigil in German cities.
But Ayten Kaplan, a German-Kurd occupational therapist from the western city of Essen said words and gestures were not enough.
“We need a national campaign that celebrates Germany’s multi-ethnic population and condemns those trying to sow division,” she told Reuters.
“Some of the people at the shisha bars came to Germany because of persecution at home. The last thing they need is to be made to feel unsafe.”
The Hanau killings came less than five months after an anti-Semitic gunman opened fire outside a German synagogue on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year, and in a kebab restaurant in the eastern city of Halle, killing two people as he livestreamed his attacks.
“It is certainly not looking good for minorities - especially Jews and Muslims - and it is not going to get better,” said Reinhard Schramm, leader of the Jewish community in the eastern state of Thuringia.
He said the rise of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party after Merkel’s 2015 decision to welcome almost one million asylum seekers, mainly Muslims from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, has contributed to a rise in racism.
“The problem is that people are voting for parties whose leaders are clearly racist, anti-Semitic and right-wing radicals,” said Schramm. “Of course not all AfD supporters are racist, but the language used by some of its leaders encourages people to translate their racist feelings into violent actions.”
The AfD, which is the biggest opposition party in the national parliament, denies its leaders harbor racist views and says some of its senior figures are victims of violence and threats from far-left radicals.
“This is neither right-wing nor left-wing terror,” AfD co-leader Joerg Meuthen wrote on Twitter.
“Any attempt to instrumentalise this terrible act for political gain is a cynical mistake. It should unite all people in our country with the victims’ families.”
Additional reporting and writing by Joseph Nasr; Editing by Andrew Heavens