Merkel 'horrified' by knife attack on pro-refugee mayor
German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday condemned a near fatal knife attack against a town mayor.
The attack, apparently motivated by the local leader’s support for refugees, left him with a six-inch neck wound.
Andreas Hollstein, 54, mayor of the western town of Altena, was stabbed on Monday evening at a kebab shop by a man who had loudly criticised his liberal refugee policy.
Hollstein said that without two shop workers who rushed to help him, he would “probably not be here today.”
With a large bandage on his neck and a wavering voice, Hollstein said the 56-year-old male assailant had asked him if he was the mayor before pulling the knife and then said: “You let me die of thirst and take in 200 refugees in Altena.”
Merkel, who has faced a strong backlash over her welcoming stance toward refugees, was “horrified” by the attack on Hollstein and “very relieved that he was already able to return to his family,” said her spokesman Steffen Seibert. “Thanks also to those who helped him.”
Hollstein, a member of Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), said he believed “a coarsening of the public debate about refugees” had led to the assault.
“I even received e-mails today approving of the attack — that says something about the state of our country,” he said, adding that he and his family had received repeated threats in recent years.
Hollstein said the attacker appeared to be under the influence of alcohol but was by no means incapacitated, noting it had taken three men to overpower him.
The assailant was arrested at the scene while Hollstein was taken to hospital. After receiving treatment, he was released hours later. The snack shop owner, Demir Abdullah, who came to Hollstein’s aid along with his son, who was also injured in the attack, confirmed that the assailant had specifically targeted Hollstein.
“He asked ‘are you the mayor?’ Then he reached for his knife and stabbed him in the neck,” Abdullah said. The town of about 17,000 people was well known for taking in a larger share of asylum seekers than required amid the mass influx that has brought more than 1 million migrants and refugees to Germany since 2015.
Hollstein, whose town won a national award in May for its work with refugees, said Altena had welcomed about 450 people, adding he had no plans to reverse his stance.
“I’m going to continue to work for refugees, for those who are already here and for those who are still arriving, for the weak and the strong in our society, like a good mayor should,” he said.
German Justice Minister Heiko Maas said “we must never accept that people are attacked because they help others,” adding that there was no space “for hate and violence” in Germany.
The assault revived memories of a knife attack on Cologne’s mayor Henriette Reker in October 2015 by a right-wing extremist over her welcoming stance toward refugees.
The attack came at the height of the refugee influx to Germany, where sentiment is still deeply divided on the country’s humanitarian responsibilities and its ability to integrate newcomers.