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article image'IS' axe attack awakens fears in idyllic German town

By Tom Barfield (AFP)     Jul 19, 2016 in World

Wuerzburg, a sleepy German university town nestled amid vine-covered hills, has become the unlikely focus of global media attention following a brutal axe attack.

Camera crews and microphone-wielding reporters were swarming Tuesday over a leafy cul-de-sac lined with modest cars and garden ornaments, just metres from the rails where an attacker left a scene of butchery aboard a regional train.

White-haired pensioner Richard Weis, 66, who saw medics carry some of the gravely wounded victims away through his neighbour's garden late Monday, was trying to find some semblance of normality by tending his plant pots between interviews.

"For something like this to happen in our home, in such a small town, after Nice just happened... it's just crazy. We'll have to work through it," he told AFP.

Although fears of a second suspect were quickly dispelled by a police search, "I left some lights on and locked the doors" before a short, fitful night's sleep, he admitted.

German authorities said they found a hand-painted IS flag among the belongings of an asylum seeker f...
German authorities said they found a hand-painted IS flag among the belongings of an asylum seeker from Afghanistan who seriously injured four members of a family of tourists from Hong Kong in his rampage
Daniel Roland, AFP

"It was a tough sensation, something like that right by where I live," said 20-year-old trainee kindergarten teacher Theresa during a cigarette break in one of central Wuerzburg's tree-shaded squares.

"At some point I went to bed, but I'd heard the shots, I'd seen the helicopter. I heard one more shot as I lay in bed," she remembers.

The revelation of the attacker's identity as a 17-year-old Afghan asylum seeker -- and seemingly beforehand an exemplar of the integration process, put up in a foster home and undergoing an apprenticeship -- shocked some in the area where he lived.

"There was never anything to call attention to the refugees, there were no problems," said 57-year-old Klaus Hamm, a resident of the riverside town of Ochsenfurt where the assailant had lived.

But while others were horrified by the details of the bloody act, they were unsurprised that Germany was the latest to suffer apparently random violence followed by a claim of responsibility from extremist group Islamic State.

"I assumed right away that it would be an asylum seeker before we knew," said Michelle Uwabor, selling tickets for sightseeing tours outside the baroque splendour of a 18th-century bishop's residence.

"Anyone is being allowed in here and we're practically being overrun. We have no control over who's in Germany."

Lothar Koehler  Bavaria's State Office of Criminal Investigation (L)  and Erik Ohlenschlager  c...
Lothar Koehler, Bavaria's State Office of Criminal Investigation (L), and Erik Ohlenschlager, chief public prosecutor of Bamberg, address a press conference in Wuerzburg, southern Germany, on July 19, 2016
Karl-Josef Hildenbrand, dpa/AFP

Like many of the people in the streets of Wuerzburg, the 84 lives lost in the July 14th attack in Nice, southern France, was at the front of Uwabor's mind.

"Why should it hit others and spare us?" she asked, gesturing at the couples and families gathering on the sun-baked cobblestones outside the palace entrance.

"I think ordinary people will push for something to change in policy towards refugees," said teacher Theresa.

Germany let in a record 1.1 million migrants and refugees last year but the influx has slowed dramatically in recent months with the closure of the Balkan route used by many asylum seekers and an EU deal with Turkey to stem the flow.

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