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World & Nation

Islamic State claims responsibility for ax attack on German train

Germany train attack video
A still from a video released July 19, 2016, by the Amaq News Agency, an online service affiliated with the militant group Islamic State, purports to show the Afghan refugee who carried out a stabbing attack on a German train.
(AFP/Getty Images)

A teenage Afghan refugee who terrorized passengers aboard a suburban commuter train in a knife-and-ax rampage left behind a note vowing revenge against “infidels,” German investigators said Tuesday after the latest attack on European soil claimed by Islamic State.

The assault, carried out by a 17-year-old baker’s apprentice who had arrived in Germany little more than a year ago, came amid growing debate over the security repercussions of an unprecedented influx of migrants and refugees, many from war-ravaged Syria.

Even as civil libertarians and rights activists cautioned against unfairly tarring those fleeing war and persecution in their homelands, right-wing politicians across the continent have seized on such attacks as proof that it is impossible to safely assimilate so many newcomers.  

A video disseminated by the Islamic State-affiliated Amaq News Agency purported to show the young assailant before the attack Monday night aboard a regional train outside the normally placid Bavarian city of Wuerzburg. In it, he boasted that he was a “soldier of the caliphate.”

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German officials were working to determine whether the youth with pimples and a scraggly beard in the video was in fact the attacker, who apparently concealed his weapons in a bag before bursting from a restroom on the train and hacking away at those around him.

Police shot him dead when he confronted them as he tried to flee the scene after the train came to an emergency halt.

Citing privacy issues, German authorities did not identify the five wounded by name, but officials in Hong Kong said that they included four members of the same family, and that two were in grave condition.

Authorities did not identify the assailant by his full name because he was a minor,  instead referring to him using only the initials “R.A.,” but the video introduced him as Muhammad Riyad.

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The attack rattled nerves across Europe, coming only four days after a Tunisian-born deliveryman barreled a 19-ton truck through crowds celebrating Bastille Day in the French Riviera resort city of Nice, killing at least 84 people and injuring more than 200 others.

Islamic State also claimed responsibility for that attack, and French officials said even in the absence of any direct link to the group, signs pointed to a swift radicalization on the part of the assailant, Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel. He was described by neighbors as a drinker and womanizer who had not followed the harsh religious tenets espoused by Islamic State.

The attack in Nice, which spurred intense criticism of French President Francois Hollande and the French security establishment, also prompted hand-wringing over the difficulty of staving off assaults by lone attackers who might have been inspired by radical ideology, even if not trained or directed by a particular group.

Recent surveys have documented rising fears in Europe over immigration and security. “The refugee crisis and the threat of terrorism are very much related to one another in the minds of many Europeans,” the Pew Research Center wrote in a report released this month.

In eight of the 10 European nations surveyed, half or more respondents believed incoming refugees increased the likelihood of terrorism, according to the Pew report. It notes, however, that anxiety tended to be the highest in countries that had taken in relatively few newcomers, such as Hungary.

Germany absorbed more than 1 million arrivals last year, with the influx largely driven by Syria’s bloody, multi-sided conflict, but the newcomers also included about 150,000 Afghans.

Public sentiment in Germany initially backed Chancellor Angela Merkel in welcoming them, but support has since waned considerably, especially after a wave of New Year’s Eve sexual assaults against women in the city of Cologne and other locales.

By some accounts, the train attacker had appeared to be settling into a new life. After requesting asylum, he received a temporary residence permit this year, German media reported, and was placed in a foster home just weeks ago, after spending his initial months in a group residence for unaccompanied minors.

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Having secured an apprenticeship in a bakery, he was seeking a spot in a job-training program, the German news agency DPA reported. That hopeful-seeming trajectory was a sharp contrast to the furious diatribe in the video that Islamic State distributed, which appeared to have been self-recorded by smartphone.

“I will fight you so long as I have a vein that beats, and I will slaughter you with this knife, and I will cut your necks with axes, God permitting,” says the youth in the video, speaking in Pashto, one of Afghanistan’s two main languages.

Specific clues as to the motive were slow to emerge. German news reports quoted a state prosecutor, Erik Ohlenschlager, as telling reporters that the suspect had learned over the weekend of a friend’s death in his homeland.

A spokesman for Bavaria’s criminal investigations bureau, Lothar Koehler, said a note found in the attacker’s room read: “Pray for me that I will attain revenge on these infidels.”

Witnesses told police that after someone pulled the emergency cord, the assailant jumped off the train attacking and seriously injuring a female pedestrian he encountered before police spotted him.

DPA cited a witness as saying that in the attack’s aftermath, the train’s blood-covered interior resembled a slaughterhouse.

Times staff writer King reported from Washington and special correspondent Bulos from Amman, Jordan.

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UPDATES:

4:05 p.m.: Updated with additional background and context.

10:02 a.m: Updated throughout with Times reporting.

4:33 a.m. Updated with additional background and comments from German and Hong Kong officials.

This article was originally posted at 1:50 a.m.


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