HALLE, Germany (AP) – A heavily armed terrorist ranting about Jews tried to force his way into a synagogue in Germany on Yom Kippur, then shot two people to death nearby in an attack Wednesday that was livestreamed on a popular site.
The terrorist shot at the door of the synagogue in the eastern city of Halle but did not get in as 70 to 80 people inside were observing Yom Kippur.
In video remarks before the rampage, he shouted that Jews were “the root” of “problems” such as “mass immigration,” according to a group that tracks online extremism. It said a roughly 36-minute video posted online featured the terrorist, who spoke a combination of English and German, denying the Holocaust before he shot a woman in the street after failing to enter the synagogue. He then entered a nearby kebab shop and killed another person before fleeing.
Germany’s top security official, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, said authorities must assume that it was an anti-Semitic attack, and said prosecutors believe there may be a right-wing extremist motive. He said several people were hurt.
The attack “strikes the Jewish community, Jewish people not just in Germany but particularly in Germany, to the core,” said the country’s main Jewish leader, Josef Schuster. “It was, I think, only lucky circumstances that prevented a bigger massacre.”
The filming of the Yom Kippur attack echoed another horrific shooting halfway around the world when a far-right white supremacist in March killed 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand and livestreamed much of the attack on a social media platform. That massacre drew strong criticism of social media giants for not immediately finding and blocking such a violent video.
Wednesday’s assault followed attacks in the United States over the past year on synagogues in Pittsburgh and Poway, California.
The head of Halle’s Jewish community, Max Privorozki, told news magazine Der Spiegel that a surveillance camera at the entrance of the synagogue showed a person trying to break into the building.
“The assailant shot several times at the door and also threw several Molotov cocktails, firecrackers or grenades to force his way in,” he said. “But the door remained closed — G-d protected us. The whole thing lasted perhaps five to 10 minutes.”
A video clip shown on regional public broadcaster MDR showed a man in a helmet and an olive-colored top getting out of a car and firing four shots from behind the vehicle from a long-barreled gun.
Schuster offered his condolences to the relatives of “the two completely uninvolved people” who were killed and his sympathy to those were wounded. German authorities didn’t give any details on the victims.
The SITE Intelligence Group said the video on the livestreaming site started with the terrorist saying “my name is Anon and I think the Holocaust never happened.” He mentioned “mass immigration” and said that “the root of all these problems is the Jew.”
The video, which apparently was filmed with a head-mounted camera, showed the perpetrator driving up to the synagogue in a car packed with ammunition and what appeared to be home-made explosives.
He tried two doors and placed a device at the bottom of a gate, then fired at a woman trying to walk past his parked car. The terrorist then fired rounds into the synagogue’s door, which didn’t open. He drove a short distance to park opposite a kebab shop. He fired at what appeared to be an employee, while customers scrambled away.
Federal prosecutors, who in Germany handle cases involving suspected terrorism or national security, took over the investigation into the attack in Halle.
Authorities said shortly after the shooting that a person had been arrested, but advised residents to stay indoors for several hours as they worked to determine whether there were other assailants. They gave no information on the suspect but Der Spiegel and dpa, which cited unidentified security sources, said the suspect is a 27-year-old German citizen from Saxony-Anhalt state, where Halle is located. They identified him only as Stephan B.
Synagogues are often protected by police in Germany and have been for many years amid concerns over far-right and Islamic extremism, but Schuster said that there was no police presence outside the Halle synagogue on Yom Kippur.
“I am convinced that if there had been police protection there, in all probability the assailant would not have been able to attack a second site,” he said.
Security was stepped up at synagogues in other cities after the shooting in Halle.
German officials rushed to condemn the attack. Chancellor Angela Merkel visited a synagogue in Berlin on Wednesday evening in a show of solidarity.
“Shots being fired at a synagogue on Yom Kippur, the festival of reconciliation, hits us in the heart,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Twitter. “We must all act against anti-Semitism in our country.”
The U.S. Embassy in Berlin said “today’s attack is an attack on all of us, and the perpetrators must be held accountable.” Ambassador Richard Grenell said that 10 Americans were inside the synagogue at the time of the attack, and “all are safe and unharmed.”
In April, a man opened fire in a synagogue in Poway, California, near San Diego, on the last day of Pesach, killing a woman and injuring another three people. In online postings, he said he was inspired by the New Zealand attack and one last fall at a congregation in Pittsburgh in which 11 people died, according to court documents.