German president urges ‘solidarity’ with Jews after synagogue attack

Two people outside the building were killed when the gunman failed to get inside.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier
Frank-Walter Steinmeier

The German president has urged his nation to stand up for their Jewish compatriots as he visited the scene of an attack on a synagogue in the city of Halle in a bid to reassure an unsettled community.

The attack, in which two people were killed outside the synagogue and in a kebab shop, stoked renewed concern about rising far-right extremism and questions about the police response.

Josef Schuster, the head of Germany’s Jewish community, called the absence of police guards outside the synagogue on the holy day of Yom Kippur “scandalous”, as members of the congregation described waiting behind locked doors for the police to arrive for more than 10 minutes.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier
Mr Steinmeier, right, said German society must support the Jewish community (Jens Meyer/AP)

The attacker – a German citizen identified by prosecutors as Stephan B – fired what appeared to be home-made weapons as he tried and 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.

The attack, in which the gunman ranted about Jews and denied the Holocaust in English, was live-streamed on a popular gaming site.

President Frank-Walter Steinmeier met with community representatives at the synagogue on Thursday.

He said: “It is not enough to condemn such a cowardly attack.

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Bullet holes were left in the entrance door to the synagogue (Jens Meyer/AP)

“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.”

Following the attack, the worshippers were brought out on buses. A video posted by a reporter for Israeli public broadcaster Kan showed people on a bus dancing, embracing and singing.

A worshipper who was at the synagogue, identified only as Christina, told Israel’s Kan Reshet Bet radio that “it’s not easy being openly Jewish in Germany”, but added: “The main message is we can’t give up. We won’t give up on Jewish existence in Germany.”

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People place flowers outside the synagogue targeted in the attack (Jens Meyer/AP)

Ahead of visiting the scene himself, Mr Schuster was sharply critical of the lack of a police presence outside.

He said: “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.”

Christoph Bernstiel, a local councillor who also represents Halle in the national parliament, said there will be a careful examination of how long the response took, “but at this point it would be too early to draw premature conclusions”.

Police union head Oliver Malchow said the response time showed “how thin police coverage is”, and added that the wait “was especially long for the people who were in the synagogue”.

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.

Germany’s domestic intelligence agency has said that 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.

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Those inside the synagogue were escorted away from the building by bus following the attack (Jens Meyer/AP)

Video of the Halle attack streamed on Twitch, which was apparently filmed with a head-mounted camera, showed the attacker 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 assailant then fired rounds into the synagogue’s door, which did not open.

He drove a short distance to park opposite the kebab shop. He fired at what appeared to be an employee, while customers scrambled away.

One person has been arrested.

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