An attack on a synagogue in the eastern German city of Halle in the state of Saxony-Anhalt sent shockwaves across country on Wednesday. Authorities have arrested a 27-year-old German, Stephan B. and have indicated that they believe he acted alone.
Police say the man had no previous arrests, but his targets suggest that he had anti-Semitic and xenophobic beliefs. German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said that anti-Semitism was certainly one of the shooter’s motives.
Shooting began at synagogue and ended at kebab shop
The shooting occurred shortly after 11:00 am, when the perpetrator attempted to enter the synagogue but was unable to gain entrance. He then shot and killed a woman near the entrance to the adjacent Jewish cemetery.
The assailant then got back into his car and drove to a nearby kebab shop where he killed another victim. Police later said that they had found an improvised explosive device near the synagogue.
Two further people were injured during the rampage in Halle. Local authorities say that the two, a man and a woman, were treated for gunshot wounds. They are no longer at risk of death according to hospital officials.
Dressed in combat gear, the attacker was also wearing a helmet with a camera, which he used to livestream the attack on Amazon’s streaming platform Twitch. During the video, which was quickly removed, the assailant ranted that the Holocaust had never happened as well as shouting xenophobic and misogynistic statements.
The suspect was apprehended by city police after he crashed his car.
City on lockdown
The attack put the city in lockdown for several hours as police followed leads that suggested accomplices may have fled the scene. The lockdown also affected national train traffic as the train station, a hub between Berlin, Munich and Hamburg, was closed.
Regional freeways were affected as well while police responded to reports of gunfire in the nearby city of Landsberg. Later in the day, police conducted house-to-house searches in Landsberg.
Police later declared that it was safe for people in Halle to leave their homes, yet as DW’s Kate Brady reported live from the scene, there was an eerie silence across the city as flashing blue lights illuminated the night while police continued to search for evidence.
Expressions of shock and solidarity
Politicians and religious leaders condemned the attack, which occurred on the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur, and expressed their solidarity with Germany’s Jewish community.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who attended a vigil Wednesday evening at a synagogue in the capital Berlin, conveyed her “deepest condolences.” Steffen Seibert, Merkel’s spokesman, wrote on Twitter: “Our solidarity is with Germany’s Jews on this Yom Kippur. Our thanks go out to security forces still deployed.”
Merkel, who attended a vigil, thanked security forces and expressed solidarity with the Jewish community
Foreign Minister Heiko Maas also addressed the attack on Twitter, writing: “That on Yom Kippur a synagogue was shot at touches all our hearts. We must all act against anti-Semitism in our country.”
Religious leaders react
Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany said, “The brutality of the attack surpasses everything we have seen in recent years, and is deeply shocking to all Jews in Germany.”
Schuster was also critical of police, however, saying, “It is scandalous that police were not protecting the synagogue in Halle on a holiday like Yom Kippur.” Synagogues in many German cities receive special police protection, and Yom Kippur, the feast of atonement, is the highest holy day in the Jewish calendar.
Leaders of Germany’s Catholic and Protestant churches also expressed condolences for “our Jewish brothers and sisters,” calling on people of faith to stand up against the scourge of anti-Semitism.