However, the authorities had received an anonymous tip-off with allegations of disturbing behaviour in January.
“The anonymous person expressed the opinion in the letter that Philipp F. could be suffering from a mental illness, without, as the person wrote, this being medically diagnosed since Philipp F. would not seek medical treatment,” Ralf Meyer, the head of the Hamburg police, told the briefing.
“Philipp F. supposedly harbours a particular anger towards religious followers especially towards Jehovah’s Witnesses and his former employer.”
The tip-off prompted two police officers to carry out an unannounced check at his home on February 7.
When they met Philipp F., he was cooperative and gave no indication of mental health problems. The officers even ended up chatting about how the flat was furnished.
His licence was inspected and police also had to check whether his weapon and ammunition were properly stored, which they were, except for one projectile that was incorrectly lying on top of the gun safe.
Philipp F. was given a verbal warning about the stray projectile. He was apologetic and the projectile was placed into the safe, after which the police felt they could not take any more action.
“The entire situation also showed no indications for the officers that could have pointed to a mental illness,” said Meyer. “On the contrary, they had a further conversation with him about a variety of things, such as the furnishing of the flat and similar things, and at the end they went out and gave him a verbal warning for the minor offence.”
The victims included four men and two women, and the unborn female child. The wounded included a Ugandan and a Ukrainian citizen, and four people suffered serious injuries.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses said in a statement the religious community was “deeply affected by the horrific attack on its members of the faith in a Kingdom Hall in Hamburg after a service”.
Police responded in force, with more than 950 officers deployed, partly because grainy, dark footage of the attack taken by a member of the public had made it seem like there could be a second attacker. It later emerged that the man acted alone.
The interior ministry has said the country’s gun controls are already very strict. However, the government has come under pressure to tighten rules, following a string of attacks in recent years and most recently after authorities uncovered an extremist network plotting an armed coup late last year.
A law on tighter gun control that Berlin is preparing stipulates would-be owners undergo a psychological suitability test, Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said on Friday on a visit to the scene of the shooting.
In Germany, people aged 18 or over with no criminal history can obtain a permit to own a gun if they fulfil certain legal requirements. These regulate the weapon’s safe storage and also require that the individual is psychologically fit.
The authorities can conduct spot checks on gun owners to ensure they are adhering to the requirements.
Germany last changed its weapons law in 2020, when it outlawed certain large magazines. Also part of the changes was the introduction of a check by authorities every five years to see whether there is justification for possession of a weapon.
As part of the background check, the weapons authority must inquire with Germany’s domestic intelligence agency whether the person concerned is known there as an extremist.
Officials at the briefing said they were now reviewing whether such processes should be tightened.
“Even if the arms control colleagues pursued this tip-off professionally, and were personally convinced by the situation and assessment that they conducted, we must once again take a critical look at these procedures, above all the legal procedures and requirements for further measures,” Meyer said.
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