LONDON - Wednesday's massacre in the German town of Hanau, 25 kilometers east of Frankfurt confirmed the worst fears of Germany's top security officials.
They have been preparing for months for more far-right violence, and the shooting by a lone wolf gunman in Hanau, leaving nine dead at two hookah bars, is the type of attack that’s been preoccupying them.
Germany’s federal prosecutors moved quickly into Hanau to take the investigation into the shooting over from locals. Some of the victims were of Kurdish descent; others are thought to have been Turkish. The 43-year-old gunman, a local sports marksman, left a 24-page manifesto and a video detailing exactly why he murdered. The gunman was found dead in his apartment after the attack, along with the body of his 72-year-old mother. She had gunshot wounds.
Free of any misspellings or grammatical errors, the document lays out the gunman’s hatred for foreigners and migrants and his desire for the extermination of Muslim-majority countries. In the manifesto, he calls for the genocide of entire populations “in explicitly eugenicist terms, saying that the science proves that certain races are superior,” says Peter Neumann, a professor in the Department of War Studies at King’s College, London University.
He comes across “more like someone who spends all night watching conspiracy videos on YouTube,” Neumann tweeted.
From Germany to Britain, alarm has been rising across Europe about the terror threat from fringe far-right groups and their supporters. Analysts and intelligence officials say the groups have been studying the tactics of jihadist factions, such as the Islamic State terror group, and copying their bomb-making methods and social-media propaganda techniques, using YouTube and messaging platforms to radicalize others and to shape their own lone wolf killers.
Last year, German authorities warned that the number of far-right extremists and fringe groups had jumped by 50% in the previous two years. Alarm among German security chiefs has mounted since live-streamed shootings in April 2018 at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, an attack that left 50 dead and more than 50 wounded.
It emerged after the massacre that the 28-year-old New Zealand assailant had ties to European "Identitarian" white nationalist groups, having sent donations to France’s far-right anti-immigrant movement Generation Identaire and to an Austrian affiliate.
In an analysis of far-right extremist activity, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Germany's domestic intelligence agency, warned that monitoring far-right militants with violence in mind is becoming increasingly challenging and labor-intensive for agencies thinly stretched already by jihadist threats. Traditional far-right extremist groups have fragmented into even more shadowy and secretive factions, the agency said, dramatically increasing the potential for lone wolf attacks. People already mentally unbalanced are particularly vulnerable to radical persuasion, administered directly or indirectly, the agency said.
“They are developing in different currents and spectra of the right-wing extremist scene, but also on the fringe or entirely outside of organized right-wing extremist tableaus,” the report said. Online surveillance must be increased to try to keep tabs and head off attacks in the early stages of planning, the agency said.
The overall assessment of the threat from right-wing terrorism and violence has changed dramatically. Until two years ago, analysts were reporting that the number of deadly incidents perpetrated by far-right militants had declined considerably between 1990 and 2015, although they noted that in most Western democracies, including the United States, the number of deadly attacks motivated by far-right beliefs was higher than those motivated by Islamism.
Norwegian militant activism and political violence analyst Jacob Aasland Ravndal wrote in the academic journal Perspectives on Terrorism in 2016 that the decline was puzzling, given that the conditions commonly assumed to spur such violence were plentiful.
“These conditions include increased immigration, enhanced support to radical right parties, Islamist terrorism, and booming youth unemployment rates,” he wrote.
However, intelligence officials across Europe say jihadists and far-right militants are feeding off each other, using similar methods to radicalize people quickly and to inspire loners to carry out copycat attacks. Analysts say social media can indeed help turn political extremists into violent ones very quickly.
A London court heard in 2018 how Darren Osborne, who drove a van into pedestrians in the capital’s Finsbury Park neighborhood near a mosque, had been radicalized in a matter of weeks. Osborne was cited by the Christchurch attacker as an inspiration.