BERLIN (AFP) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel yesterday condemned a near fatal knife attack against a town mayor, apparently motivated by the local leader’s pro-refugee stance and which left him with a six-inch neck wound.
Andreas Hollstein, 54, mayor of Altena, was stabbed on Monday evening at a kebab shop by a man who had loudly criticised his liberal refugee policy.
Mr Hollstein said without two shop employees who rushed to help him, he would “probably not be here today”. With a large bandage on his neck and a wavering voice, Mr 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.”
Ms Merkel, who has faced a strong backlash over her welcoming stance toward refugees, was “horrified” by the attack and “very relieved that he was already able to return to his family”, her spokesman Steffen Seibert tweeted.
Mr Hollstein, a member of Ms Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), said that he believed “a coarsening of the public debate about refugees” had led to the assault.
“I even received emails 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.
Mr 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 Mr Hollstein was taken to a local hospital and, after treatment, released hours later, police said, referring to an “apparent xenophobic motive”.
The snack shop owner, Demir Abdullah, who came to Mr Hollstein’s aid along with his son, who was also injured in the attack, confirmed the assailant had specifically targeted Mr Hollstein.
“He asked ‘are you the mayor?’… then he reached for his knife and stabbed him in the neck,” Mr Abdullah told German television.
The town of about 17,000 people was well known for taking in a larger share of asylum seekers than required. Mr Hollstein, whose town won a national award in May for its work with refugees, said Altena had welcomed about 450 people and said 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.