Around five days after the most serious crime in Hamburg's recent history, with seven people murdered, many questions were still unanswered when Hamburg's Interior Senator Andy Grote (SPD) presented himself to the media on Tuesday afternoon together with representatives of the police and the Attorney General's Office in Hamburg City Hall.
Should the gun inspectors have known about a book that the later assassin Philipp F. had published in December 2022 full of confused theses about Jesus as Hitler, the thousand-year Reich and an impulsive God when they visited him about a month before the crime? After all, they had received an anonymous tip about a mental illness and also specifically about the book. But sometimes the saying "You're always smarter when you come out of the town hall" isn't true, because the first big press conference on the balance sheet also ended with an open situation.
Philipp F. published this book entitled “The Truth About God, Jesus Christ and Satan: A New Reflected View of Epochal Dimensions” in December 2022, and it was also available from the online giant Amazon. In the meantime, this work plays a decisive role in determining whether there would have been an opportunity at any point to stop Philipp F. before his crime last Thursday in a Hamburg community center of Jehovah's Witnesses. For example, two law enforcement officers read it before an unannounced visit to F. on February 7 of this year and concluded that the author has right-wing extremist views or has succumbed to religious mania (or both at the same time) and is therefore considered private Waffenträger is unfit.
Then he would have had to hand in his gun and gun license and the crime might never have happened. Hamburg's police chief Ralf Martin Meyer said at the press conference on Tuesday: "You could have started a psychiatric process with that." The anonymous letter alone - which is said to have come from the brother of the later assassin - would not have been enough .
But Meyer also says: "We always think with the knowledge of today", the procedure of the own weapons authority was in any case not objectionable with the knowledge at that time. After the anonymous tip, the officials searched for the book on the Internet and entered "Book" and F.'s full name in the Google search mask. And found nothing, which was probably due to the very low distribution of the work at the time. However, it has been researchable on Amazon itself since December 2022 and it was also highlighted on F.'s homepage. This website was also visited by the officers, but they did not seem to notice this aspect.
In the meantime, the State Criminal Police Office is investigating the book as well as all the other tips and witness statements that have been received or obtained hundreds of times. Although it is not possible to investigate the dead, the police and judiciary can remain active here, since there is at least theoretically the possibility of third parties being complicit. So far, however, there have been no concrete indications of complicity outside of the actual course of the crime, but there may have been other people who could have given evidence of F.'s constitution - "we are currently investigating that," says the State Criminal Police Office.
During their visit to F.'s Altona apartment, the weapons inspectors followed the suggestion in the anonymous letter not to address the reference to a mental illness - rather, an overall picture should emerge, which also includes the storage situation of the weapon and ammunition. The book was also not mentioned here. Police President Meyer rejected the accusation that a police psychologist should have accompanied the two officers; on the one hand, they are not specialized in psychiatric illnesses, on the other hand, this should not have happened legally without F.'s consent.
This process was legally an administrative act and not an investigation, and the behavior of the inspectors in this regard was not objectionable. However, it should be checked whether experts from the police should be called in for future information that triggers an Internet search.
With regard to the perpetrator's weapon, the custody situation in a safe that was located in a wardrobe was basically fine, only one cartridge was on the safe, which would have been an administrative offence. The inspectors would have had some leeway here; it was okay that they left it at a verbal warning. There would only have been two or three magazines of ammunition in the container; At the time of the crime, F. had around 60 magazines, and he shot 135 times during his killing spree. Where he got the cartridges from and when - apparently via online trading - is now also the subject of the investigation.
Earlier indications that F. should have committed a drug offense at his former place of residence in Bavaria turned out to be wrong - this was a person with a similar name. The 35-year-old had never committed a crime himself, and no entry could be found in any of the files. The Hamburg public prosecutor's office assumes that the most likely motive for the crime was that he acted out of hatred for the community of Jehovah's Witnesses, perhaps also specifically for the community in Hamburg-Alsterdorf, of which he was a member until a year and a half ago. According to Interior Senator Grote, there were very different statements about the circumstances of his departure, "here, too, the evaluation is still ongoing".
At the political level, this killing spree has rekindled the debate about gun rights. F. himself was able to present confirmation that he works as a sports shooter on December 3, 2022 as a document from the Association of German Sports Shooters. He shot himself in the "Gun Club" in downtown Hamburg, where the members meet in a converted office floor to pursue their hobby. Grote advocated that after a reform of the gun law, a medical and psychological report would not first have to be submitted for applicants for gun ownership under the age of 25, but with every application.
In addition, an upper limit for the possession of ammunition would be conceivable and an associated entry in the gun owner's card. Federal Minister of the Interior Nancy Faeser (SPD) recently called for the health authorities to be more involved in issuing gun licenses. "In the future, we want the weapons authority not only to query the security authorities and the local police, but also the health authorities," said Faeser.
Next Sunday evening there will be an ecumenical service in Hamburg, at which the dead will be commemorated, but which will also give space for the relatives, the rescue and emergency services. "The terrible act is still very intense for all of us today," said Grote on Tuesday.
According to Grote, a later separate honoring of the police officers of a special unit who happened to be quickly at the scene of the crime and partially stopped the events without taking the time to put on helmets, for example, is also being considered. At least there is good news, albeit limited: three of the four critically injured people are "over the hill", only one of the seriously injured is still fighting for the life of one.