2 killed in attack targeting German synagogue
Heavily armed man livestreamed rampage
HALLE, Germany — An apparent right-wing extremist attacked a synagogue with guns and explosive devices Wednesday in the eastern German city of Halle on Yom Kippur, Judaism’s holiest day.
After the heavily armed man was thwarted in his attempt to get inside the building, he killed two people and injured two others outside, with footage of the attack broadcast on an internet livestreaming platform.
The rampage comes amid heated public debate about the safety of Jews in Germany following a string of anti-Semitic crimes in the country.
The bloodshed in Germany bore resemblance to the massacre by a suspected white supremacist who killed 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, six months ago, in an attack that was shown live on Facebook.
For a short time, a video filmed by the Halle attacker was available
on the livestreaming platform Twitch. It has since been deleted.
On Wednesday afternoon, the attacker, wearing a steel helmet and boots, placed homemade explosive devices in front of the Halle synagogue and attempted to enter it, security sources told dpa. Several shots were also fired.
Halle Jewish community leader Max Privorotzki said there were 70 to 80 worshippers inside the synagogue at the time and that its security personnel prevented his advance into the building.
The gunman — calling himself “Anon” — shouted that Jews were “the root” of “problems” such as feminism and “mass immigration,” according to a group that tracks online extremism. It said the roughly 36minute video posted online featured the assailant, who spoke a combination of English and German, denying the Holocaust before he shot dead a woman in the street after failing to enter the synagogue. It was unclear whether she was associated with the synagogue or just passing by.
Local media reported that shortly after the attacker failed to enter the synagogue, a grenade or improvised explosive device was thrown into an adjacent Jewish cemetery.
A second victim — a man — was then killed at a nearby kebab shop.
Meanwhile, at the Jewish Community Center in Squirrel Hill, Rabbi Ron Symons began a panel discussion on forgiveness featuring survivors of two mass shootings by informing the hundreds in attendance about the synagogue shooting in Germany. Gasps spread through the crowd, many of whom were abstaining from technology on the high holy day and hadn’t heard.
“Here we go again,” Rabbi Symons said after the panel. “We need more communities to do what [Tree of Life survivor Dan Leger] said — to focus on the kindness. We need to turn more to our elected officials in order to build communities in partnership with nonprofits and religious organizations and the like in order to say that that’s not acceptable, it can’t happen again.
“Our goal is to help people figure out, ‘How am I going to respond to it next time?’ until there is no next time.”
The suspected shooter’s video showed people being fired upon and a man lying behind a refrigerator in the kebab shop being shot several times. It appears to have been filmed on a camera attached to a helmet.
The attacker then fled the scene and apparently threatened a taxi driver and two other people, before crashing a car and being detained.
Police have yet to release information about the victims. It was also still unclear late Wednesday exactly how the chaotic events unfolded.
German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer described it as an anti-Semitic attack likely motivated by rightwing extremism. The suspect is in custody, and police believe he acted alone. Antiterrorism prosecutors have taken over the investigation.
The suspect was identified only as Stephan B, in line with German privacy laws.
Sources told dpa he is a 27year-old German man with a far-right background.
In the wake of the attack, questions were raised about whether police could have done more to protect the synagogue in Halle.
The president of Germany’s Central Council of Jews said no police were present at the synagogue at time of the attack, even though officers are frequently seen outside Jewish houses of worship in the country.
“The fact that the synagogue in Halle did not have police protection on a holiday like Yom Kippur is scandalous,” Josef Schuster said. “The brutality of the attack overtakes everything that has happened over recent years and is a deep shock for all Jews in Germany.”
Mr. Privorotzki also accused police of being “too late on the ground” and said the Jewish community in Halle has been asking state authorities in Saxony-Anhalt for greater protection.
A witness at the kebab shop, where the second victim was killed, said he hid in the restroom, texted his family that he loved them and only came out when asked to do so by police.
Two people injured were being treated at a hospital, a spokesman said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel joined an evening vigil at a Berlin synagogue to show “solidarity,” her spokesman said.
Police officers cross a wall in Halle, Germany, on Wednesday after a man armed with guns and explosives attacked a synagogue on Yom Kippur, Judaism’s holiest day. Two people were killed and two others injured.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, center, attends a solidarity event at the Neue Synagoge in Berlin on Wednesday after two people were killed in an attack targeting a German synagogue.