At time of writing, we know only certain facts about the gunman who shot and killed nine people and wounded many more at a shopping centre in Munich.
He was 18 years old. He was German-Iranian. He was reported to have shouted: “I am German.” After murdering his innocent victims he killed himself.
We don’t know his motive. We may never truly understand his motive. And yet, over the last few years, we have all come to know the way this story goes.
There is a crowd, usually at ease – concertgoers, revellers or, in this case, shoppers. Then the man – it’s usually a man – arrives with a gun or whatever other tool of murder he can get his hands on.
As he unleashes terror on the crowd, he shouts something. This is the crucial part. He may be a loner, an outsider or a crook, but a few sentences is all it takes to elevate him into the top ranks of the Islamic State or the neo-Nazi elite.
Even before the bystanders have reported this, world leaders are already reacting. In the case of Munich, the French president Francois Hollande called Friday night’s tragedy a “disgusting terrorist attack” aimed at stirring up fear.
Boris Johnson, the UK’s new foreign secretary, went further. At 9.30pm, while the attack was ongoing, he said:
“If, as seems very likely, this is another terrorist incident, then I think it proves once again that we have a global phenomenon now and a global sickness that we have to tackle both at source – in the areas where the cancer is being incubated in the Middle East – and also of course around the world.”
On Saturday morning, reports of multiple gunmen had boiled down to one, now dead, teenager. the chief of Munich police stated the teenage gunman’s motive was “fully unknown”. Iran, his second country of citizenship, condemned “the killing of innocent and defenceless people”.
And Europe’s onlookers are left with sympathy for the victims, and a question. How much meaning should we ascribe to such an attack? Is it evidence of what we fear – that Western Europe is under sustained attack from terrorists? Or is this simply the work of a murderous, attention-seeking teenager?
In Munich, mourners lay flowers. Flags fly at half mast. The facts will come out, eventually. But by that time, the world may have drawn its own conclusions.