Hanau - Eleven people were killed in shooting incidents on Wednesday night in the German town of Hanau near Frankfurt in what authorities said may have been a right-wing extremist terror attack.
The news prompted immediate soul searching in a nation gripped by concerns about the rise of the far right, which is upending the traditional political order in Europe's biggest economy and disrupting the final stages of Angela Merkel's four-term chancellorship.
Nine were killed at two different bars, before the suspected perpetrator and his mother were found dead at a nearby home, authorities said.
The suspect was a 43-year-old German national from Hanau, according to Peter Beuth, interior minister in the regional Hesse government. Bild newspaper identified him as Tobias R.
The attacks targeted 'sheesha' bars in Hanau, about 20 kilometres from Frankfurt, where armed police quickly fanned out and police helicopters roamed the sky looking for those responsible for the bloodshed.
The first attack occurred at the "Midnight" bar in the centre of the city around 10pm (2100 GMT), police and reports said. Three people were killed in front of the building, local media said, with witnesses reporting hearing a dozen shots.
The federal prosecutor has taken over the case and is treating it as a suspected terror attack, Beuth said.
"A first analysis of the suspected culprit's home page points to a xenophobic motive," Beuth said in a statement to the Hesse parliament. "I condemn this act in the strongest possible terms. It is an attack on our free and peaceful society."
Some of the victims were of Kurdish origin, Bild said, without naming the source of its information. Beuth said the suspect was not previously known to authorities and had apparently acted alone.
"Our thoughts are with the people of Hanau this morning, in whose midst a dreadful crime was committed," Chancellor Angela Merkel's chief spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said in a tweet. "Our deepest sympathies are with the affected families, who are mourning their dead. We hope that the injured quickly recover their health."
Merkel canceled a planned trip to Halle Thursday and is closely monitoring the situation, Seibert said.
The attacker, or attackers, fled the scene by car, according to police. There was then a second shooting at Arena Bar.
A gunman reportedly rang the doorbell and shot people in the smoking area, killing five people including a woman, according to mass-circulation Bild, adding that the victims were of Kurdish origin.
"The victims are people we have known for years," said the bar manager's son, quoted by DPA news agency. Two employees were among the victims, according to the man, who was not at the bar during the shooting. "It is a shock for everyone".
At least five people were also seriously wounded in the attacks, reports said.
An AFP journalist at the scene saw around thirty police cars leaving Hanau police station. Witnesses said police officers with machine guns were deployed in the city.
A silver Mercedes covered by what looked like a survival blanket could be seen behind a police cordon and surrounded by officers in front of "Arena Bar", with shattered glass on the floor.
"The police can now confirm that eight people were fatally wounded. The search for suspects is going at top speed. There is no clear information yet as to a motive," authorities said, adding that several had been injured.
The mayor of Hanau, Claus Kaminsky, told mass circulation Bild that it had been "a terrible night".
"You could not imagine a worse night. It will of course keep us busy for a long, long time and remain a sad memory."
"I am deeply moved. Just the fact that eight people have lost their lives has shaken me up. But I ask all citizens not to speculate. The police must have the chance to clear up the situation and investigate - until then, we should wait with prudence, no matter how hard this may be."
MP for the region, Katja Leikert said it was "a real horror scenario".
"On this dreadful night for Hanau, I would like to express my deepest condolences to the relatives of those killed. I hope the injured will recover quickly," she said.
Germany has been targeted in recent years by several extremist attacks, one of which killed 12 people in the heart of Berlin in December 2016.
Far-right attacks have become a particular concern for German authorities.
In October, a deadly anti-Semitic gun attack in the eastern city of Halle on the holy day of Yom Kippur underscored the rising threat of neo-Nazi violence. The rampage, in which two people were shot dead, was streamed live.
Last June conservative politician Walter Luebcke, an advocate of a liberal refugee policy, was shot at his home.
On Friday police arrested 12 members of a German extreme right group believed to have been plotting "shocking" large-scale attacks on mosques similar to the ones carried out in New Zealand last year.
German-Turkish Islamic organisation Ditib, which funds around 900 mosques in Germany, called for greater protections for Muslims in the country, saying they "no longer feel safe" in Germany.