The teen gunman who killed a fellow student and wounded three others in a shooting spree at a German university had previous links to a neo-Nazi party, German media reported on Wednesday.
Shortly after midday on Monday, the 18-year-old gunman, named only as Nikolai G. in line with German privacy laws, entered an organic chemistry lecture at Heidelberg University in southwest Germany armed with a rifle and a shotgun and about 100 rounds of ammunition, and began firing. The attack killed a 23-year-old woman, who died of her injuries in hospital several hours later, and injured three other students – two women and a man.
The gunman, who had reportedly sent his father a WhatsApp message shortly before the attack saying that “people have to be punished” and asking to be buried at sea, then fled the lecture hall before turning the gun on himself, police said.
The members of the 32-strong team investigating the incident – the first shooting at a German school or university since 2009 – are still working to establish a motive of the attacker, who was previously unknown to authorities, and who recently purchased the firearms in another country, police said.
But on Wednesday, further details of the gunman’s troubled background emerged, with reports that he had previously had links to the militant neo-Nazi “micro-party” Der Dritte Weg (“The Third Path”). German news outlet ZEIT Online reported that investigators had found his name on an old internal list belonging to the right-wing extremist party.
A spokesperson for the public prosecutor's office in Heidelberg told Germany’s Tagesspiegel that there were "indications" that the gunman was involved with the neo-Nazi party, but there were no findings that the attack was politically motivated. In the immediate aftermath of the attack, security services were reportedly looking into potential relationship or mental health issues as contributing factors – the attacker is reported to have experienced mental health issues in the past.
Der Dritte Weg, whose name refers to a supposed “third path” in politics that is neither “exploitative capitalism” nor “egalitarian communism,” is a militant minor party considered to be one of the most radical forces on Germany’s extreme-right fringe.
The party, whose ideology is shaped by Nazism, antisemitism and xenophobia, according to the BfV, Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, was formed in 2013 by former members of another neo-Nazi party, the NPD (National Democratic Party), and members of the now-banned far-right network Free Network South.
The party has only about 600 members, but it’ss focused on extremist activism rather than establishing itself as a major political force, according to the BfV.
“It is even more radical than other neo-Nazi parties like Die Rechte (The Rights) and the NPD, as it sees itself as the ‘elite’ of the neo-Nazi scene,” said Nicholas Potter, an expert on right-wing extremism at the Amadeu Antonio Foundation in Berlin.
The “particularly militant” party is heavily involved in the MMA scene, offering fight training for young people, said Potter, and gained notoriety in September last year for a provocative campaign poster last year that read: “Hang the Greens!”
Last year, it coordinated vigilante patrols on the German-Polish border in which about 50 people, carrying pepper spray, batons, a machete and a bayonet, sought to prevent the entry of Middle Eastern migrants arriving through Poland from Belarus. The initiative followed the group’s efforts to establish "national patrols" in towns across Germany, supposedly to protect Germans from the danger posed by foreign criminals, DW reported.
Der Dritte Weg did not respond to a VICE World News request for comment to clarify its relationship with the Heidelberg attacker. A party spokesperson refused to confirm or deny the gunman’s history with the party to ZEIT Online, citing data protection laws.