HALLE, Germany — An apparent right-wing extremist on Wednesday attacked a synagogue with guns and explosive devices 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 New Zealand six month 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 between 70 and 80 worshippers inside the synagogue at the time and that its security personnel prevented his advance into the building.
At some point, the attacker shot dead a woman outside 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.
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 right-wing extremism. The suspect is in custody and police believe he acted alone. Anti-terrorism prosecutors have taken over the investigation.
The suspect was identified only as Stephan B, in line with German privacy laws.
Security sources told dpa he is a 27-year-old German man with an extreme-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.”
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 had been ordering food at the time of the incident, and that he hid in the shop’s restroom, texted his family that he loved them and only came out once he was asked to do so by police.
“The man came towards the kebab shop. He was wearing a balaclava and carrying an assault rifle. He threw a grenade, which bounced off the (shop’s) doorframe and exploded in front of another guest on the floor,” a witness told German broadcaster n-tv.
Two people injured in the attack are being treated in Halle’s University Hospital, spokesman Jens Mueller said.
In Germany and abroad, there was an outpouring of condemnation and expressions of shock.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel joined an evening vigil at a Berlin synagogue to show “solidarity,” her spokesman said.
The European Parliament held a minute’s silence for the victims at the start of its plenary session in Brussels on Wednesday.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres strongly condemned the attack in a statement from his spokesman, calling it “yet another tragic demonstration of anti-Semitism.”
“Houses of worship around the world must be safe havens for reflection and peace, not sites of bloodshed and terror,” the statement said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the tragedy in Halle was “another manifestation of anti-Semitism in Europe.”
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said he was “stunned and pained by the terrible anti-Semitic murders in Germany today, during the holiest and most important day of the year for all Jews around the world.”
The Halle shooter broadcast his actions using Twitch, the popular gaming platform owned by Amazon. In a statement on Twitter, the company said: “We are shocked and saddened by the tragedy that took place in Germany today, and our deepest condolences go out to all those affected.”
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