Friday December 6, 2019
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10 Dead in Munich Attack, Including Sole Gunman

After hours of fear and security sweeps, police in Munich concluded that only one gunman was involved, and that the attacker killed himself

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Several shot dead in Munich shopping mall rampage in fresh attack. Image source: www.scmp.com
  • For hours after the attacks on Friday afternoon, Munich was in “an acute terror situation”
  • A message on Twitter by police in the Bavarian capital confirmed there were 10 dead, including the gunman
  • Munich police sent frequent messages via Twitter and Facebook advising residents to stay at home

To address the carnage at a shopping mall in Munich that left 10 people dead including the gunman on Friday,  German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called an emergency meeting of her security council.

After hours of fear and security sweeps, police in Munich said early Saturday that they had concluded only one gunman was involved, and that the attacker killed himself.

A message on Twitter by police in the Bavarian capital confirmed there were 10 dead, including the gunman.

The shootings were an “inhuman, cruel attack,” and terrorist motives cannot be ruled out, according to Merkel’s chief of staff, Peter Altmaier. Cabinet ministers were to travel to Berlin later Saturday for the security meeting called by Merkel.

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The United States declared the Munich shootings were “an apparent terrorist attack” that must be condemned in the strongest terms.

President Barack Obama expressed sorrow over the casualties when he appeared at a meeting of law enforcement officials, saying, “Our hearts go out to those who may have been injured.” The president pledged all possible support to Germany, one of the United States’ closest allies.

‘Acute terror’

For hours after the attacks on Friday afternoon, Munich was in “an acute terror situation,” authorities said, and a manhunt was underway throughout Germany’s third-largest city.

Witnesses had reported seeing up to three people with firearms on the streets, and eyewitness video showed a man brandishing a long gun outside a McDonald’s restaurant. As the gunman raised his weapon and trained it on a nearby crowd, the camera operator fled, but the sound of rapid gunfire was heard.

An American bystander in Munich who declined to give his name told VOA he was at a train station when the shooting began.

“Initially it was pretty, pretty scary at the train station,” the man said. “People just started rushing in once the activity was happening outside.”

Policemen stand at the underground station Georg-Brauchle-Ring close to the Olympia shopping centre in which a shooting was reported in Munich Photo. Image source: AP
Policemen stand at the underground station Georg-Brauchle-Ring close to the Olympia shopping centre in which a shooting was reported in Munich Photo. Image source: AP

The American said fear spread through the people in the train station, and then it fell silent outside. “Everybody rushed back” into the station at that point to find safety, he continued, even though the station already had been shut as a security precaution. All rail systems were suspended during the emergency.

“Now everything is on lockdown,” the American bystander told VOA several hours after the attack. “There is a lot of police presence. A lot of cars, a lot of helicopters in the sky, flying around.”

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Details about what happened trickled out slowly from German authorities. “Most of the action has calmed down,” the American bystander said. “It’s been that way for several hours now, but there is still a lot of activity and not a lot of answers.”

Munich police, federal police and special forces took part in the security sweep. Police asked the public not to take photos or video of the security measures in order to avoid divulging information that could be useful to an attacker. At that point, police were hunting for up to three suspects.

Munich police sent frequent messages via Twitter and Facebook advising residents to stay at home and urging those who were out in the city to avoid public spaces or take shelter in protected buildings.

Friday’s attack took place four days after a 17-year-old Afghan refugee attacked passengers with an ax and a knife on a train in the German city of Wuerzburg. The teenager wounded four people before police shot him dead. Islamic State later claimed responsibility for the attack.

In late June, a masked man opened fire at a German movie complex in the western town of Viernheim, near Frankfurt, wounding several people. Special police officers shot him dead and freed several hostages.

Stephen Szabo of the Transatlantic Academy at the German Marshall Fund of the United States told VOA the Wuerzburg attack, followed by the Munich shootings, would focus new scrutiny on Germany’s policy of accepting refugees fleeing world trouble spots. Merkel’s open policy on refugees is “very different than the policies you’ve seen in France and Belgium,” Szabo said. “…It means that the political ramifications are going to be pretty strong against her and against this open-door policy.”

The analyst also said the two attacks could be considered harbingers of difficult times to come. “This could be the beginning of a serious internal terrorist threat in Germany, which they’ve expected,” Szabo said. “Everybody expected something to happen in Germany over the last year.”(VOA)

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Advance Of Summit, NATO Pacify Trump

NATO also plans to consider a Franco-German proposal

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Flags of NATO member countries
Flags of NATO member countries are seen at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. VOA

As Britain prepares for the NATO leaders’ meeting outside London December 3-4, the alliance said Thursday it had agreed to redistribute costs and cut the U.S. contribution to its central budget.

NATO’s central budget is relatively small at around $2.5 billion a year, mostly covering headquarters operations and staff, and different than its defense budget. U.S. President Donald Trump often complains of inequitable burden-sharing, with only nine of the 29 member countries meeting the 2%  of gross domestic product target for the alliance’s defense spending.

Regarding the central budget, “The U.S. will pay less, Germany will pay more, so now the U.S. and Germany will pay the same,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in Paris Thursday.

The United States currently pays about 22% of NATO’s central budget. Beginning 2021, both U.S. and Germany will contribute about 16%.

NATO also plans to consider a Franco-German proposal to create a working group of “respected figures” to discuss reform in the alliance and address concerns about its future.

The announcement to reduce the American contribution is seen as a move to placate Trump, who has considered withdrawing from the alliance but has since taken credit for its promised reforms.

“In 2016, only four allies spent 2%  of GDP on defense,” a senior administration official told reporters Friday, adding that there are now nine countries, including the U.S.,  meeting the 2% target, with 18 expected to do so by 2024.

“This is tremendous progress, and I think it is due to the president’s diplomatic work,” he said.

 U.S. forces from Syria, a move Trump made without consulting NATO
A convoy of U.S. vehicle is seen after withdrawing from northern Syria, on the outskirts of Dohuk, Iraq. VOA

Internal strife

Leaders of the 29 member states will attempt a show of unity during the summit but the alliance is facing questioning about its relevance and unity, particularly after the October withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria, a move Trump made without consulting NATO.

“It’s exactly in the wake of that decision that you had [French] President [Emmanuel] Macron say what he said about the alliance being ‘brain-dead’ and referencing the lack of American leadership in the sense of leading in a community and not just going out on your own,” said Gary Schmitt, a NATO analyst with the American Enterprise Institute.

U.S. troops’ withdrawal from Syria prompted Turkey to launch an offensive against Kurdish YPG militia in northern Syria. The move spurred Macron to vent his frustration over what French diplomats say is NATO’s lack of coordination at a political level, and triggered fear among allies that the assault will undermine the battle against Islamic State militants.

Meanwhile, a simmering war between Russia and Ukraine has become the backdrop of Trump’s impeachment, with the American president allegedly having withheld hundreds of millions of dollars of military aid to pressure the Ukrainian government to announce an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden, a Democratic presidential candidate running against Trump. Kyiv needs the aid to counter Moscow’s aggression.

The two conflicts in Europe’s eastern and southern flank further complicate Washington’s already-strained relations with other NATO members. Meanwhile, despite American efforts to reassure European leaders of Washington’s continuing commitment, anxiety about U.S. neglect of NATO under Trump persists, said Hans Kundnani, Senior Research Fellow in the Europe Program at Chatham House.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, welcomes NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, left, welcomes NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg during their meeting in Kyiv, Ukraine. VOA

Kundnani noted a series of American officials who have come to reassure Europeans not to take Trump’s tweets too seriously and focus on what is happening on the ground, particularly the military reinforcement of NATO’s eastern flank. Still, Kundnani said that in the last year Europeans have started to realize it’s “not really good enough” and they’re now facing the “reality of the of the crisis in NATO.”

“Some of them are hoping that Trump will be out of office in in a year’s time but the real fear is that Trump wins a second term,” said Kundnani, adding that some Europeans are hoping that “U.S. gradual withdrawal from Europe” might “snap back to the status quo ante if Trump is not re-elected.”

Diverging European responses

“The upcoming celebration of NATO’s 70th anniversary will be marked by important divisions within the alliance — not just across the Atlantic, but also within Europe,” said Karen Donfried, president of the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

In Paris, the view is “strategic autonomy,” said Donfried, with many in France concluding that Washington’s security guarantee can no longer be relied on. Warsaw is promoting “strategic embrace”  developing close bilateral relationship with Trump to guarantee its own security, while Berlin is advocating “strategic patience.”

Germany in the middle is a little bit divided between the “Atlanticists” and the “post-Atlanticists,”   Kundani said, adding that “Europeans are very much arguing” about these approaches.

Donfried said that against this backdrop, NATO allies are approaching the London summit with a sense of foreboding, knowing that they carry the responsibility to articulate alliance’s common purpose and ongoing relevance.

“If they don’t, [Russian President Vladimir] Putin will be raising a glass in Moscow to the fraught state of the alliance at 70,” she said.

Another summit goal for most European leaders, is to simply avoid a Trump flare-up, like those that have happened in past meetings.

NATO meetings
President Donald Trump meets with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the United Nations General Assembly, New York. VOA

Many have discovered this can be achieved through flattery. “They can talk about all the things that they’ve done and very smartly suggest that President Trump has generated the kind of pressure to make those things happen,” Schmitt said.

“They can actually praise President Trump, even though this is very hard for them to do because of the personality clashes.”

Many will be watching Trump’s encounters with Macron, including their bilateral meeting, as well as with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Johnson has pleaded for Trump to stay out of the upcoming British election during his London trip.

The senior administration official said that Trump is “aware of this” and “absolutely cognizant of not wading into other countries’ elections.”

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Other potential clashes are simmering too. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said Friday that Emmanuel Macron’s NATO “brain-death” warning reflects a “sick and shallow” understanding, telling the French president “you should check whether you are brain dead.”

The French foreign ministry has summoned Turkey’s ambassador to Paris to protest the statement. (VOA)