German official slams online ‘incitement’ after mask killing

Murder at petrol station

Media and a police car stand in front of a gas station in Idar-Oberstein, Germany, Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021. Police in Germany say a 49-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of murder in connection with the killing of the gas station worker who was shot dead Saturday at the station, following a dispute over face masks. (Thomas Frey/dpa via AP)

BERLIN (AP) — Germany’s health minister on Wednesday partly blamed “incitement” against the government’s pandemic rules on social media for the killing of a gas station clerk by a man who refused to wear a face mask.

A 49-year-old German man was arrested Sunday over the the fatal shooting a day earlier in the western town of Idar-Oberstein. Authorities said the suspect told officers he rejected the measures against the coronavirus.”

“It was a cold-blooded murder,” Health Minister Jens Spahn told reporters in Berlin, noting that the suspect had initially gone home after being refused service for failing to wear a mask, only to return later and shoot the clerk in the head.

“The question is, what is the environment, what are the circumstances in which such a crime can occur?” he asked. “This has a lot to do with the incitement, the hatred, that is posted on social media.”

A Twitter account linked to the suspect followed several prominent far-right politicians, including senior members of the Alternative for Germany party. Posts from the account, which was last used in October 2019, reflect a dislike for immigrants, climate activists and the government.

Chants of “Traitors!” heard at anti-lockdown protests during the pandemic could be seen by some as legitimizing violence, Spahn said.

“Words eventually always become deeds,” he said.

The health minister called on Germans to speak up if friends, relatives or neighbors start spreading conspiracy theories about the pandemic.

“We must clearly and decisively say ‘no’ to any form of pandemic extremism,” he said.

Spahn’s center-right Christian Democratic Union party has come under fire for an election ad featuring a prominent member of Germany’s Querdenken movement, which opposes the pandemic restrictions. Germany has a federal election scheduled for Sunday.

The general secretary of the center-left Social Democratic Party, Lars Klingbeil, told German media group RND that it was time the Christian Democrats pulled the ad off the airwaves and apologize to the victims’ family.

Tributes were paid Wednesday to the gas station clerk, a 20-year-old student identified on condolence cards only by his first name, Alex.

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