One year after. My statement in Open Democracy about the terrorist attacks in Hanau

One year after the Hanau massacre, victims’ families fight for justice

Although it was eclipsed by the pandemic, last February’s mass shooting revealed Germany’s failure to confront the racism in its midst

Maxim Edwards
19 February 2021
On 19 February last year, Tobias Rathjen walked down a street in the centre of Hanau, a town in Germany close to the city of Frankfurt am Main, and shot Kaloyan Velkov dead. The 43-year-old then approached the Midnight Shisha Bar, where he murdered Fatih Saraçoğlu and Sedat Gürbüz.

Afterwards, Rathjen drove to the nearby suburb of Kesselstadt, evading a local, Vili-Viorel Păun, who had tried to block him with his car. When he confronted Rathjen in a parking lot in the nondescript suburb, Păun too was shot dead. The killer then entered the nearby Arena Bar and Cafe, where he murdered Ferhat Unvar, Mercedes Kierpacz, Gökhan Gültekin, Nesar Hashemi and Hamza Kurtović.

This was Germany’s worst mass shooting in decades. That same month, members of a far-right group were arrested on suspicion of planning attacks on mosques across the country. Less than six months after a gunman had murdered two people at a synagogue in Halle, in eastern Germany, Hanau struck a chord in a country that prides itself on how well it has dealt with its fascist past.

Then came COVID-19. Subsequent events fell like snow, effacing the violence. In a world so heavy with injustice, what was another?

Political scientist Florian Hartleb finds it unusual that Rathjen’s manifesto did not mention other extremists – neither as influences nor inspirations, whether in Christchurch or Utøya.

“There’s too little understanding of this auto-didactic element of extreme right radicalization. He spoke English well; his manifesto refers to US politics, some of it is reminiscent of QAnon. That bigger context, the internationalization of online lone wolf terrorism, is not well-discussed or systematized in the media, and it’s different from the kind of domestic networked terrorism you see in the NSU trials,” explains Hartleb, who recently published a book on lone wolf far-right extremists.