Germany on High Alert After Latest Attack on Politician

(Bloomberg) -- German authorities detained a 74-year-old man suspected of carrying out Tuesday’s attack on a Berlin state minister and former mayor, in what was the latest evidence of an upsurge in political violence ahead of next month’s European Parliament elections.

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An assailant struck Franziska Giffey, a member of Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats, from behind on the head and neck on Tuesday afternoon using a bag filled with hard contents, then walked away from the scene, according to a joint statement by police and the state prosecutor on Wednesday.

Giffey, Berlin’s deputy mayor and economy minister, suffered minor injuries and was treated for head and neck pain, police said. In a later update, they announced they had arrested a man previously linked to hate crimes who may be mentally ill. They were investigating a potential motive and executing a warrant to search the man’s home.

Giffey published a series of social media posts earlier on Wednesday in which she said she was in good shape “following the initial shock.” The 46-year-old, who later made a statement to reporters, ran the German capital from 2021 to 2023 and served as a federal family minister for the SPD.

“Nevertheless, I am concerned and shaken by the growing ‘fair-game culture’ in which people who are politically active and committed in our country are increasingly exposed to attacks,” she wrote on the platform X.

“Nothing can justify these attacks,” she added. “They are a transgression of boundaries that we as a society must resolutely oppose.”

It was the latest in a spate of acts of aggression toward German lawmakers and party activists before the June 9 European vote. Scholz led condemnations after a member of the European Parliament for the SPD was seriously injured in the eastern city of Dresden on Friday while putting up campaign posters.

An election volunteer for the Greens was also assaulted the same evening. Police are investigating four German men in their late teens suspected of involvement in both incidents.

Late Tuesday, a Greens lawmaker was attacked while out campaigning in Dresden and a man and a woman have been detained, police said.

“The two suspects were in a group near the crime scene before the attack,” according to the police statement. “When the politician started putting up posters, the Hitler salute was chanted from this group.”

Interior Minister Nancy Faeser held talks on Tuesday with her counterparts from the 16 federal states to discuss the upsurge in violence and raised the prospect of sharpening German law “to punish anti-democratic acts more harshly.”

“The authorities must further strengthen the protection of democratic forces in our country in view of the massive threats we are experiencing,” Faeser said in an emailed statement.

“We need a return to a political culture of respect,” she added. “Violence stifles all debate and destroys democratic discourse.”

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Robert Habeck, the vice chancellor and economy minister, on Tuesday warned about the rising threat to freedom and democracy from “enemies who want to fight them at their core and perhaps abolish them.”

“Everyone has noticed that violence, violence of language, a certain breaking down of boundaries in political spaces, but also a result of social media, has now become a reality,” Habeck, a member of the Greens, said at a conference in Hamburg. “That spoken violence is followed by real violence on the street.”

--With assistance from Kamil Kowalcze.

(Updates with arrest starting in first paragraph)

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