Germany seeks to reassure rattled Jews after holy day attack
A person with a flag of Israel stands next to flowers and candles in front of a synagogue in Halle, Germany, Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019. A heavily armed assailant ranting about Jews tried to force his way into a synagogue in Germany on Yom Kippur, Judaism's holiest day, then shot two people to death nearby in an attack Wednesday that was livestreamed on a popular gaming site. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)
Geir Moulson And Pietro De Cristofaro, The Associated Press
Published Thursday, October 10, 2019 5:57AM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, October 10, 2019 9:48AM EDT
HALLE, Germany -- The suspect in an attack on a German synagogue on Judaism's holiest day had around four kilograms (nearly nine pounds) of explosives in his car and wanted to carry out a massacre, Germany's top prosecutor said. Many questions remained about how the man was able to get hold of the weapons he used in the assault, in which two people outside the building were killed.
As officials sought to reassure an unsettled Jewish community and address concern about rising right-wing extremism, Germany's president visited the scene of the attack in Halle and urged his nation to stand up for its Jewish compatriots.
The assailant - a German citizen identified by prosecutors as Stephan B. - tried but failed to force his way into the synagogue as around 80 people were inside. He then shot and killed a woman in the street outside and a man at a nearby kebab shop. He is now in custody.
“What we experienced yesterday was terror,” said Peter Frank, the chief federal prosecutor. “The suspect, Stephan B., aimed to carry out a massacre in the synagogue in Halle.”
Frank said his weapons were “apparently homemade” and the explosives in the car were built into “numerous devices.” The suspect, who livestreamed the attack on a popular gaming site while ranting in English about Jews and posted a “manifesto” online before embarking on it, “wanted to create a worldwide effect” and encourage others to imitate him, the prosecutor added.
The gunman is suspected of two counts of murder, nine of attempted murder and other offences, Frank said. His apartment was searched and investigators were sifting evidence, but “we face a lot of questions,” he added.
Those include how the suspect was radicalized, how he decided to carry out the attack, how he got hold of the material to build weapons and explosives, whether he had supporters or whether anyone else encouraged him or knew about his plan, he said. Prosecutors will have to sift through his communications and his activities on the darknet, a part of the internet hidden from public view.
Officials didn't give details of the victims, who were killed outside the synagogue and in a nearby kebab shop.
The head of Germany's Jewish community, Josef Schuster, called the absence of police guards outside the synagogue on Yom Kippur “scandalous” as members of the congregation described waiting behind locked doors for the police to arrive, which took more than 10 minutes.
The head of the city's Jewish community, Max Privorozki, was among those inside who watched the man trying to break in on monitors linked to a surveillance camera.
“We saw everything, also how he shot and how he killed someone,” he said, standing outside the damaged door. “I thought this door wouldn't hold.”
Privorozki said it took a little while for worshippers to understand what was going on.
“That was a shock for us. It was Yom Kippur, all phones were switched off. We had to understand what was going on first - then switch on my phone and then call the police,” he said. “It was really panic. But I have to say after that, when the police came, we continued with the worship service, that lasted another three hours, the synagogue worship service.”
The worshippers were brought out on buses several hours later. A video posted by a reporter for Israeli public broadcaster Kan showed people on a bus dancing, embracing and singing.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier met with community representatives at the synagogue Thursday.
“It is not enough to condemn such a cowardly attack,” he said.
“It must be clear that the state takes responsibility for the safety of Jewish life in Germany,” he added, saying that society as a whole must show “a clear, determined position of solidarity” with Jews.
“History reminds us, the present demands of us” that Germans must stand by their Jewish compatriots, he said. “Those who so far have been silent must speak out.”
Synagogues are often protected by police in Germany and have been for many years amid concerns over far-right and Islamic extremism. There has been rising concern lately about both anti-Semitism and right-wing extremism in the country.
Germany's domestic intelligence agency says the number of anti-Semitic acts of violence rose to 48 last year from 21 the previous year. It also said the number of far-right extremists rose by 100 to 24,100 people last year, with more than half of them considered potentially violent.
In June, Walter Luebcke, a regional politician from Chancellor Angela Merkel's party, was fatally shot at his home. Luebcke was known for supporting the welcoming refugee policy that Merkel adopted during an influx of migrants in 2015. The suspect is a far-right extremist with a string of convictions for violent anti-migrant crimes.
Joachim Herrmann, Bavaria's state interior minister, accused members of the nationalist, anti-migrant Alternative for Germany party of helping stir up anti-Semitism, an accusation the party rejected. Some figures in the party, which entered the national parliament in 2017, have made comments appearing to downplay the Nazi past.
Moulson reported from Berlin. Tia Goldenberg in Jerusalem and David McHugh in Frankfurt, Germany, contributed to this report.