Germany reacted with shock and outrage on Tuesday after a 20-year-old gas station worker was gunned down by a customer angry over being asked to wear a mask while buying beer.
Saturday night’s murder in the western town of Idar-Oberstein is believed to be the first in Germany linked to government coronavirus rules.
As the country is five days away from a general election, politicians from all walks of life have condemned the murder and expressed concern over the radicalization of the anti-mask movement.
Finance Minister Olaf Scholz of the center-left Social Democrats, favorite to succeed outgoing Chancellor Angel Merkel, said he was “shocked” by the murder of someone who only wanted “to protect himself and others “.
“As a society, we must resolutely resist hate,” he tweeted.
The argument started when the cashier, a student, told the customer to put on a face mask, as required by all German stores. After a brief argument, the man left.
The suspect returned about an hour and a half later, this time wearing a mask. But as he brought his six pack of beers to the checkout, he took off his mask and another discussion ensued.
“The assailant then took out a gun and shot him in the head,” prosecutor Kai Fuhrmann told reporters on Monday.
“Not the way”
The anonymous suspect, a 49-year-old German, went to a police station the next day to surrender. He was arrested and confessed to the murder.
He told police he felt “stuck” by the coronavirus measures, which he saw as an “ever-increasing violation of his rights” and that he had seen “no other way out”, he said. said Fuhrmann.
The mayor of Idar-Oberstein, Frank Fruehauf, called it an “unfathomable and terrible act”, and residents laid flowers and candles outside the gas station.
The suspect was not known to police and did not have a permit for the weapons and ammunition found during a search of his home, the prosecutor added.
Armin Laschet, candidate chancellor of Merkel’s conservative CDU-CSU bloc, said it was a “horrible” crime.
“Violence is not the way,” he said in a direct appeal “to those with other opinions, including the Querdenkers”.
The German “Querdenker” (lateral thinkers) movement has emerged as the strongest voice against government restrictions on coronaviruses.
Its protests have at times drawn tens of thousands of protesters, drawing a wide range of people including vaccine skeptics, neo-Nazis and members of the far-right AfD party.
Annalena Baerbock, the Greens candidate for chancellery, said she was “shaken” by the murder and very worried about the “radicalization of the Querdenker scene”.
The Tagesspiegel newspaper said far-right Telegram newsgroups applauded the murder, with one user writing “Here we go !!!” while others have posted thumbs-up emojis.
Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht said it was “disgusting” that the murder was being used online “to spread even more hatred and contempt” for human life.
“The rule of law must use all means to oppose the radicalization of Covid deniers ready for violence,” she said.
Germany’s domestic intelligence agency announced in April that it would begin monitoring key Querdenker figures over concerns that they were trying to undermine the state and had links to right-wing extremism.
Stephan Kramer, head of the internal intelligence agency in eastern Thuringia state, told German media group RND he was saddened but not surprised by the murder.
“The escalation of right-wing conspiracy fantasies among aggressive and violent citizens has been evident for months,” he said.
“The increasing aggressiveness is palpable in everyday life.”
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