Swiss Gunman Was Known 'Troublemaker'

The members of the Swiss national council in Bern, Switzerland, stand for a minute of silence in remembrance of the victims of the rampage in Zug, central Switzerland, on Thursday, Sept. 27, 2001. A gunman dressed as a police officer stormed an assembly of the local state parliament in Zug and killed at least 14 people.
A gunman who shot and killed 14 local government officials in Switzerland's worst mass murder was a "querulous troublemaker" with a criminal record who once served a stint in a labor camp, Swiss police said Friday.

Stunned by Thursday's bloodbath, Switzerland moved to tighten traditionally lax security as Swiss realized that even their tranquil Alpine nation was not immune to mindless violence.

Police said 15 people were injured, one still in critical condition, during the rampage at the local parliament in this small city in central Switzerland.

On Friday, dozens of people lined up in front of the local assembly building, its steps covered with flowers and candles, to sign a book of condolences. Many had tears in their eyes. A lone policeman stood guard on the steps of the cordoned-off building. Flags around the country were flying at half-staff.

In a message of condolence, Pope John Paul II said he had learned "with pain and sadness ... of the violent death of so many innocent people."

The shooter, a 57-year-old with a grudge against local government, was identified by police as Friedrich, or Fritz, Leibacher, an unemployed man with a wife and daughter. Police said the crime had no ties to the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States that left almost 6,500 dead or missing.

Leibacher killed himself after he broke into the parliament chamber and sprayed the room with fire for four minutes. He also threw an explosive device into the room.

Dressed in police combat uniform, Leibacher was armed with a semi-automatic assault rifle, a pump-action gun, a revolver, and a pistol with several magazines of ammunition, police said.

"Clearly, this was a very well-planned act of revenge," Kurt Bloechinger, head of the local police, told a news briefing.

Investigating Magistrate Roland Schwyter said Leibacher had been convicted of indecent acts with children, public indecency, forgery and various other crimes in 1970 and sentenced to 18 months in prison.

Instead of serving a prison term, Leibacher had been sent to a so-called labor education camp, usually reserved for younger offenders.

Investigators said Thursday's attack was motivated by a dispute with a local bus driver that escalated horribly.

After threatening the bus driver with a revolver during a fight at a local bar in 1998, Leibacher filed five lawsuits against the driver and wrote a letter to a local paper insulting the city's transit workers.

In turn, transit authorities filed a complaint against Leibacher alleging defamation of character.

The case made its way through the courts. On Wednesday, a day before the shootings, a regional high court turned down as many as seven suits that Leibacher had filed against various government officials and others.

"In all these procedures, Friedrich Leibacher was becoming an increasingly querulous troublemaker," police said in a statement.

Police also found a letter he wrote that named some people who wee among the victims. The letter promised a "day of rage for the Zug mafia."

Zug (pronounced "Tsoog") is the name of both the state of 100,000 people and its principle town, which has a population of 22,000.

Former neighbors of Leibacher, who briefly lived in Zurich, the nearby commercial capital of Switzerland, said they were surprised by his violent act.

"I never heard anything bad about him, not a word about arguments or disputes. He was nothing but nice," said Brigitte Buchmann, who lives in the building where Leibacher kept a one-room apartment until about a year ago.

Police said it was not clear where Leibacher had obtained his weapons, but firearms are widely available in Switzerland, where shooting ranges and gun festivals are a part of life.

The country's militia system requires men older than 18 to be ready for a call to service at any time, and most of them keep a military-issue rifle at home. The assault rifle used in the rampage, a Sturmgewehr 90, was a civilian model similar to the standard weapon issued to the militia.

Authorities said Leibacher had been freed from military service because of an unspecified medical condition.

Like most other public buildings in this small nation where serious crime is low, the Zug assembly building had virtually no security measures in place and was open to anyone.

"We're going to implement security measures, but we're not quite sure yet to what extent," said Robert Bisig, a local official who now heads the Zug government after three regional government members were killed and two injured in the shootout.

The federal government said it would not be cowed by the attack. "The extreme act ... must not lead to an isolation between government and state on the one hand and citizens on the other," it said in a statement.

In the Swiss capital, Berne, police stepped up patrols Friday at the federal parliament building, long a symbol of the country's centuries-old tradition of direct democracy with its open doors. Starting Monday visitors will have to pass through metal detectors. Regional assemblies at Zurich and Thurgau in northern Switzerland also had new checks in place.

Many lawmakers were afraid that such moves would threaten Switzerland's cherished openness. In a country with little violent crime, politicians mostly travel without protection and have always been accessible to the people.

"That's one of the fundamentals of national unity," said the Christian Democratic Party in a statement. The shooting should not put in doubt the concept of parliaments being "close to the people."

The Socialist Party added that it would be impossible to guarantee the absolute safety of parliamentary buildings.

Swiss who mourned with Americans after the Sept. 11 attacks had believed major violence happened elsewhere. Some now fear for a way of life in a country of 7.2 million inhabitants where Cabinet ministers can often be seen riding city trams and the presiden is listed in the local phone book.

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