German synagogue gunman aimed to commit massacre, prosecutor says


  • World
  • Thursday, 10 Oct 2019

People lay flowers outside the synagogue in Halle, Germany October 10, 2019, after two people were killed in a shooting. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

HALLE, Germany (Reuters) - A gunman suspected of attacking a German synagogue and killing two people nearby wanted to commit a massacre and hoped to incite others to copy him by live-streaming his deadly rampage, Germany's federal prosecutor said on Thursday.

A police helicopter flew the suspect to the Federal Court of Justice in Karlsruhe. He wore a white outfit, was handcuffed, with shackles on his legs and a bandage on his neck as police special forces helped him out of the aircraft and took him to the court building.

The man, identified as Stephan B., modelled Wednesday's attack on a shooting spree at New Zealand mosques earlier this year in which 51 people were killed. He wanted to kill as many people as possible in the synagogue in the eastern city of Halle, the prosecutor said.

Dozens of people were at the synagogue on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year, when the gunman tried to blast his way in - only to fail to breach the solid locked gates.

"What we experienced yesterday was terrorism. According to our findings, the suspect Stephan B. aimed to carry out a massacre," federal prosecutor Peter Frank told reporters.

"Stephan B., a man who was influenced by scary anti-Semitism, xenophobia and racism, was heavily armed," Frank added. "He armed himself with many weapons, some possibly self-made, and had a large quantity of explosives."

Investigators found 4 kilograms of explosives in his car.

In a video lasting more than 30 minutes that the attacker live-streamed from a helmet camera, he was heard cursing his failure to gain entry to the synagogue before shooting dead a woman passer-by in the street and a man in a nearby kebab restaurant.

Two other people were injured but not critically.

Holger Stahlknecht, interior minister of Saxony Anhalt, the state where Halle is located, said the suspect was not known to intelligence authorities. He said police took seven minutes to reach the synagogue after receiving the first report a woman had been shot outside the building.

When they arrived, the gunman had moved on to a nearby kebab shop, where he killed a man. An exchange of fire ensued, during which the perpetrator suffered a neck wound before fleeing. Police captured him 1-1/2 hours after the attack began.

"Stephan B. wanted to be copycat in two senses," said prosecutor Frank. "He wanted to mimic similar acts that happened in the past, and he also wanted to incite others to copycat his acts."

Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht said right-wing extremism "is one of the biggest threats facing us". She vowed to get tougher on online platforms if they carry threats or material that incites hatred.

"We unfortunately have to face the truth, which - for some time already - is that the threat of anti-Semitism, right-wing extremism, and right-wing terrorism is very high," Federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said.

MERKEL SHOCKED

Earlier, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany must crack down on hate, violence and hostility.

"I am, like millions of people in Germany, shocked and dejected by the crime that was perpetrated in Halle yesterday," Merkel said to loud applause in an address to a trade union congress in Nuremberg.

A military source said Stephan B. had done military service, but received no special training. His full name cannot be published under German privacy laws.

The suspect would appear before federal judges on Thursday, accused of two counts of murder, Frank said. Questions remained about how he armed himself and whether he had any accomplices.

Most Jewish institutions in large German cities have a near-permanent police guard due to the threat of anti-Semitic attacks by both far-right activists and Islamist militants.

Josef Schuster, president of the council of Germany's 200,000-strong Jewish community, criticised police for not being present at the synagogue in Halle.

"If police had been stationed outside the synagogue, then this man could have been disarmed before he could attack the others," Schuster told Deutschlandfunk public radio.

However, the head of Germany's police union was sceptical about providing that level of protection.

"We'd have to guard every synagogue, every church, every mosque, every holy place in Germany around the clock, so I don't know if this was a mistake or if this really couldn't have been foreseen," Oliver Malchow told ARD public television.

(Additional reporting by Michelle Martin, Joseph Nasr, Sabine Siebold and Thomas Escritt; Writing by Paul Carrel; Editing by Giles Elgood)

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