BERLIN – A knife attack on a German politician known for his welcoming stance toward refugees was likely politically motivated, authorities said, prompting widespread shock and condemnation from officials including Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Andreas Hollstein, the mayor of Altena and a member of Merkel's conservative party, was stabbed at a kebab restaurant in the western town Monday night. The attacker, identified only as a 56-year-old German man and described by local media as drunk, asked Hollstein if he was the mayor before attacking him, local media reported.
Hollstein was taken to the hospital but discharged later Monday.
"I'm shocked by the knife attack on mayor Andreas Hollstein — and very relieved that he is back with his family," Merkel said. "Thanks also to those who helped him."
Hollstein himself told local newspaper Lokalstimme that "I had people on my side who acted quickly and I'm happy to still be alive."
The mayor was at a local kebab restaurant around 8 p.m. (1900 GMT) on Monday, when the attacker slashed him on the neck with the knife before restaurant employees overpowered him and called police, Lokalstimme reported. The man allegedly said he attacked Hollstein because the mayor has voluntarily taken in more refugees in Altena than the town is obliged to according to the federal distribution key for asylum seekers.
A man who helped Hollstein was also slightly injured, the German news agency dpa reported.
The prosecutor's office in the nearby town of Hagen did not want to confirm the details of the incident, but announced a news conference for 1 p.m. on Tuesday.
Armin Laschet, the governor of North Rhine-Westphalia state where Altena is located, said "the security agencies assume the attack has a political background."
In a similar case, a politician campaigning to become mayor of Cologne was stabbed in the neck in 2015 by a far-right assailant who was angered by the government's refugee policy.
Henriette Reker, who was in charge of housing refugees in Cologne at the time, was elected mayor the following day while still in an induced coma.
Germany took in more than 1 million asylum seekers between 2015 and 2016, mostly from war-torn countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. The influx saw an outpouring of support from many Germans who wanted to help the refugees, but also a sharp rise in the number of attack against migrants and sometimes also against their supporters.