15 dead in Swiss shooting spree
The Associated Press
ZUG, Switzerland — A man enraged with local officials opened fire with an assault rifle and tossed a grenade in a crowded state legislature before shooting himself yesterday. Switzerland's worst-ever shooting spree left 15 people dead, including the gunman.
The rampage by Friedrich Leibacher, a 57-year-old Zurich resident, killed three of Zug's seven-member government, as well as 11 of its 80 lawmakers. Fourteen officials were seriously injured, including government chief Hanspeter Uster, who was shot through a lung.
The spree plunged Switzerland into mourning and prompted an immediate rethinking of security standards in a country where even the president has little police protection.
"It was like an execution," said lawmaker Hanspeter Hausherr, who was in the chamber when Leibacher stormed in, wearing a police vest and firing at least one magazine of 20 bullets from his 5.6 mm SIG "Sturmgewehr 90" in a five-minute frenzy.
He then detonated a grenade, which ripped doors off and shattered windows of the stately two-story building near Zug's quaint old town and glistening lake not far from Zurich. He then shot himself with a pistol.
As lawmakers hit the floor and the injured screamed in pain, journalists who were covering the parliamentary meeting took cover behind their desks.
"Unbelievable, just unbelievable," said lawmaker Jo Lang, one lens of his glasses shattered and still in shock from the bullet that whizzed through his curly hair.
"I just remember the shout, 'Get down!' said another lawmaker, Jean-Pierre Prodolliet. "Then I heard bang, bang, bang, five or 10 times. Then there was silence until the next bang, bang, bang."
Zug's famously low taxes, proximity to Zurich airport and stunning Alpine views have made it a favorite base for foreign firms, including all the world's major commodity traders. Marc Rich, a fugitive U.S. financier who caused a storm by being pardoned by former President Clinton, has long been based there.
Swiss President Moritz Leuenberger broke off a meeting with Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade and headed to Zug upon learning of the attack. He ordered all state flags to fly at half-staff for the next three days.
"Our democracy and freedom has been put into question," a choked Leuenberger said. "I'm just so shocked I can find no more words."
At a news conference, police officials said Leibacher's grievances dated back to a row with a Zug bus driver two years ago. He subsequently insulted all public-transport workers, leading the transport department to file a complaint against him.
Leibacher responded with countercomplaints against transport- and justice-department figures, alleging they were violating their public trust. He filed suits at every level of the Swiss legal system, including the Supreme Court. All his cases were dismissed. He was told of the most recent rejection shortly before he went berserk.
"He did this purely out of revenge and fury," said local investigator Kurt Bloechlinger.
Robert Bisig, a government official who survived the attack, said Leibacher had bombarded state officials with letters and pamphlets demanding his rights. But all the accusations were dismissed because "they were so far from reality," Bisig said.
A note found alongside a cache of weapons in Leibacher's car was entitled "Day of Rage against the Zug Mafia." In it, Leibacher accused authorities of being a "band of criminals," "pirates" and "alcoholics."
Even though Leibacher was wearing police clothing, authorities said he did not belong to the force. Though probable, it wasn't immediately known if he had served in the country's militia when he was younger, entitling him to keep a weapon at home. Military service is required for nearly all Swiss men.
The town of Zug has a population of 22,000, and 100,000 people live in the canton — or state — that bears the same name. The legislature has widespread powers over issues ranging from education to taxation and health care.
Part of Zug was cordoned off and locals left bouquets of flowers by the barricades or handed them to police.
Officials were at pains to stress that there was no link to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.
For the 7 million Swiss inhabitants used to living in a low-crime environment, the shock was profound.
New security measures were immediately announced for government and Parliament buildings in the capital Bern, including metal detectors, baggage screening, identity controls and protective grills on windows — routine steps in most other countries.
"We were proud that until now politicians could move freely," said President Leuenberger. "That has been put into question by this attack."