In what appears to be a new era in relations between Israel and its Arab neighbors, a former Saudi military general visited Israel recently and met with senior Israeli officials.
Another sign of the warming relations between Israel and the surrounding Arab countries? Former Saudi general Anwar Eshki visited Jerusalem last week and met with Israeli officials, including Foreign Ministry Director General Dore Gold.
The meeting marks a rare public engagement between countries that have no official relations.
Eshki also reportedly met with Members of Knesset from several political parties.
He currently heads a Saudi think tank in Jeddah but is believed to have close ties with the kingdom’s rulers. Official government permission was likely necessary for him to make such an overt visit.
He has met with Israelis in the past and has given interviews to the Israeli media.
Saudi Arabia has floated a plan for a comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
It has unofficially grown closer to Israel in recent years over their shared concerns regarding Iran’s nuclear program, its growing influence in the Middle East and the advent of Islamic terror.
Over the past months there have been several reports of secret ties between Israel and several Sunni Muslim countries in the Gulf, and chiefly Saudi Arabia, which leads them.
By: AP and United with Israel Staff
(CNN)At least nine people were killed and 16 others injured Friday in a shooting rampage at a busy shopping district in Munich, Germany, police said.
Police searched for attackers, thinking there might be three, and found a man who had killed himself on a side street near Olympia shopping mall, police Chief Hubertus Andrae said.
Based on surveillance video and witness statements, police concluded he was the sole gunman, Andrae said.
The unidentified attacker was an 18-year-old German-Iranian who had lived in Munich for at least two years.
The man was not known to police and his motives are unclear, authorities said. No group has claimed responsibility.
Many children were among the casualties.
The shooting comes as recent terrorist attacks have put Europe on high alert.
This week, a teenager who said he was inspired by ISIS stabbed passengers on a German trainbefore police shot him dead. Eight days earlier, 84 people were killed when a man drove a large truck through a crowd celebrating Bastille Day in Nice, France.
The gunman in Munich started shooting at a McDonald’s across from the Olympia mall around 5:50 p.m. (11:50 a.m. ET), Andrae said.
A witness who wanted to be identified only by her first name, Lauretta, told CNN her son was in the bathroom with a shooter at the restaurant.
”That’s where he loaded his weapon,” she said. ”I hear like an alarm and boom, boom, boom … and he’s still killing the children. The children were sitting to eat. They can’t run.”
Huseyin Bayri, a witness of the shooting, said he heard the attacker screaming out that he will kill ”foreigners.”
”I heard a scream at first: ‘You shitty [bleep] foreigners. I am German. You will get it.'”
The gunman moved across the street to the mall, which is adjacent to the site of the 1972 Olympics. Located in a middle-class neighborhood in northern Munich, the shopping mall is the city’s biggest and a popular destination for shoppers on Friday nights, German lawmaker Charles Huber told CNN.
Lynn Stein, who said she works at the Jack Wolfskin store in the mall, said she heard several shots.
”People were very confused, and they were running and they were screaming,” she said. She saw someone lying on the floor of a store who appeared to be either dead or injured. ”There’s a woman over them, crying.”
Many citizens posted photos and video of the panic and the shooting on social media. Two videos showed a profanity-filled verbal exchange, between a man on the top level of parking garage and man on a balcony, that ended with gunfire.
The exchange, recorded on two different camera phones, captured an intense conversation that ends in gunfire. The man who appears to be a shooter said insulting things about Turks, did not espouse jihadist ideology and spoke with a German accent.
Shoppers and people on the street stampeded. Thamina Stoll told CNN she was with her grandmother, who lives about three minutes away from the mall, and saw crowds sprinting down the sidewalk.
”There were like 50 people running towards our house to seek shelter, and there was a helicopter circling above us for about 20 minutes and sirens,” she said. ”And there’s still people walking on the streets. They’re confused, and nobody knows what’s really going on.”
At 8:30 p.m., police found a man who took his own life and decided he was the lone gunman, Andrae said.
The investigation will not yield quick answers, he said.
”We have to investigate everything via third person as we cannot question the perpetrator now,” he said.
Germany increased security throughout the nation.
Enhanced police patrols were deployed to the Austria-German border, a spokesperson for the Austrian Ministry of Interior told CNN. Special forces from Bavaria and surrounding federal states were brought in to Munich as reinforcements during the search.
Chancellor Angela Merkel called a security council meeting for Saturday. German Federal President Joachim Gauck was ”dismayed and shocked” by the shooting, his office said in a statement.
Foreign leaders expressed sympathy for the victims.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman expressed sympathies for Germany, as the state news agency, IRNA reported that the suspected shooter was Iranian-German.
”There is no other way to combat terrorism except through widespread and relentless anti-terrorism campaign,” said the ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi, according to IRNA.
President Barack Obama condemned the attack, as did U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. In a statement, Kerry said, ”We are in close contact with German officials and stand ready to provide any and all assistance requested by our close friend and ally Germany in this time of crisis.”
The U.S. military began a count of all its personnel — some 62,000 — and their dependents throughout Europe to confirm their safety.
There were early reports that the gunman in the Munich, Germany shooting spree may have been targeting foreigners or immigrants. Those reports had people asking: Was the gunman in Munich a Neo Nazi? Munich police said in a news conference that the shooter was an 18-year-old German-Iranian man from Munich, Ali David Sonboly, who was inspired by far-right killer Anders Breivik, The Independent says.
They said they can find no ties to ISIS; Sonboly may have been targeting victims of “Turkish and Arab” origin because other youths from those groups “had picked on him in school” and he was obsessed with past school shootings, but one eyewitness did say he uttered a slur about foreigners, said UK Telegraph. The Telegraph now says police do not believe the attack was “terrorism-related” and they can’t find evidence of political motivation. Sonboly’s hairdresser said the family is Shia Muslim but Sonboly wasn’t religious; ISIS opposes Shia Muslims, Telegraph said.
There were conflicting reports on the shooter’s motive and background in the chaotic aftermath of the shooting; CNN says police were initially calling it a terrorist attack, though, and that a witness heard the gunman shout, “Allahu Akbar” before shooting children in the face. The Sun says German police have not yet officially linked the shooting spree to Islamic fundamentalism; on July 23, police said the motive is still not clear but that they found an “obvious link” to Breivik as well as articles and a book on mass shooters, including school shooters.
The background and motivations of the shooter appear complex; The Independent says police believe that Sonboly researched earlier mass shootings, had a book on why school shooters kill, and had even traveled to a previous site of a German school shooting. He complained of being bullied at school.
Munich police initially said they thought there were three gunmen but now say they believe there was just one shooter, Sonboly, and that he is dead:
The gunman may have shouted “Ich bin Deutscher” (“I am German”) on a video as bystanders shouted insults at him from a nearby rooftop. Reddit has posted a translation of the German in the unconfirmed video. CNN says it is analyzing the rooftop video and that the purported gunman talks about medical treatment and says he was a German. However, if the shooter was of Iranian descent yet German born (as he says in the video), it could explain the initial discrepancies between the gunman’s Islamic comment and German claim. Indeed, Munich police now say the shooter had dual nationality.
According to the BBC, Breivik “harboured radical right-wing views” and said his mass murder “was aimed at stopping Muslim immigration to Europe.” He murdered 77 people in Norway on July 22, 2011 in a bomb attack in Oslo and a mass shooting at an island youth camp for “young centre-left political activists on the island of Utoeya.” Breivik is being held in solitary confinement.
Watch the “I am German” rooftop video here:
The eyewitness who spoke to CNN says she heard the gunman shout, “Allahu Akbar” as he shot children in the face at the McDonalds; he then appears to have gone outside and started spraying other people with gunfire, a horrific scene captured on citizen video:
In the McDonalds video, people flee as the rapid gunfire can be heard and a man who appears to be a gunman points a weapon at them.
CNN reported that the woman named Lauretta told CNN she was in the McDonalds near the mall when a gunman emerged from the bathroom and started shooting. She told CNN’s Dugald McConnell: “I come out of the toilet and I hear like an alarm, boom, boom, boom. He’s killing the children (…) The children were sitting to eat. They can’t run.” The man yelled “Allahu akbar!” she said, according to CNN.
Although they have hesitated thus far to ascribe an official motive to the attack, German police were saying the shooting looked like a terrorist attack, CNN said. CBS News also reported that police were calling the attack “suspected terrorism.” On July 23, though, police said that they could not find a clear political motivation for the attack.
Earlier reports in British media said that the gunman may have shouted anti-foreigner sentiments. The Daily Mirror had reported: “Taxi driver says #Munich shooter “was not foreign.’” That report came originally from German media, Daily Mirror said, and remains unconfirmed:
The Daily Mirror also reported that the Munich gunman “shouted ‘f***ing foreigners’ before firing shots.’” The attack started at a Munich, Germany shopping mall in Bavaria, before moving to the local McDonalds; police in Germany had launched a major manhunt after the shooting. Police say at least 9 people are dead, not counting the shooter, who is also deceased. The Sun had earlier pointed out that the attack occurred on the anniversary of the 2011 mass shooting by Norwegian far-right killer Breivik. CNN reported the mall where the shooting occurred is adjacent to the site of the 1972 Munich Olympics.
The Mirror says “One of the gunmen screamed “Scheiß Ausländer” meaning ‘f***ing foreigners,’ it’s been reported.” Bil.de, a German media outlet, reported that “The man was heard shouting the racial slur, according to Bild.de.” However, Munich police now say there was just one gunman, the German-Iranian teenager. Bild says that the gunman lived in “the district of Maxvorstadt” with his parents. Bild said he went to school near the residence, and his neighbors saw him the day before. Bild quoted a neighbor as saying, “He lived right next to me. I saw him only occasionally and do not really know him. A friend of mine was his classmate, saying that he was more of a quiet type.”