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German church opens its doors after terror killings: 'We should not give in to fear'

by Tola Mbakwe

A German church around the corner from one of the deadly attacks in the city of Hanau on Wednesday has opened its doors for people who want to mourn, pray, or speak with someone.

A German man shot and killed nine people at several locations in a Frankfurt suburb in attacks that appear to have been motivated by far-right beliefs, according to officials.

The gunman first attacked a hookah bar in central Hanau at about 10pm on Wednesday, killing several people, before heading about 1.5 miles west and opening fire again, claiming more victims.

Hookah lounges are places where people gather to smoke flavoured tobacco from Middle Eastern water pipes, and some of the victims appeared to be Turkish.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said that while the circumstances of the attack still need to be fully investigated, the shootings exposed the "poison" of racism in German society and she pledged to stand up against those who seek to divide the country.

Charity Church in Hanau had just finished Bible study around the time of the attack. 

Charnell Knorzr- Okpekpe, the bishop's wife, told Premier they checked on all their members, who all ended up being safe. 

"Our first response was to ensure that we have our church premises open for anybody who just seeks a place of residence, spiritually, to just be in the presence of God to get a moment of silence, to get prayer. 

"We also have worship going on so the doors are literally open. And we have a note that everybody's welcome whoever wants prayer, or just to sit there and think about what had happened, not just fellow Christians, but anybody that may pass."

According to Peter Beuth, the interior minister for the state of Hesse, investigators are evaluating a website believed to be the 43-year-old suspect's. 

"Initial analysis of the web page of the suspect indicate a xenophobic motivation," Mr Beuth added.

It does not appear, however, that the suspect was known either to police or Germany's domestic intelligence agency, he said.

Meanwhile, Knorzr- Okpekpe told Premier Christians should leave thoughts about who the suspect is to investigators and focus on how they can pray and help those involved. 

"I think the typical human reaction is 'what happened? How did it happen? Who did it? Who got shot? Who got killed? Who got injured?'," she said.  

"And those things are irrelevant because we're still talking about people that are no longer amongst us," she added. 

"There was a brother or a father or son or sister, daughter, uncle… people that are not coming home. 

"Our prayer goes out to the families that lost their loved ones. You know, at the end of the day, their children of God, it doesn't matter their religious background."

She urged Christians to pray for the country and government, and to let such attacks make them fearful.  

"This world needs Jesus.  We need love, we need peace, and not to be scared. God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind. We should not forget that. Whether it was a hate crime or terror attack, we should not give in to fear."

The attack was quickly and broadly condemned by many organisations, including the Central Council of Muslims, the Confederation of Kurdish Associations in Germany, and the Central Council of Jews.

Mrs Merkel pledged that "everything will be done to investigate the circumstances of these terrible murders".

In unusually plain words, the German leader said: "Racism is a poison. Hatred is a poison."

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