An armed German man, who is likely an extreme right-wing activist, shot to death two people near a synagogue in the eastern German city of Halle on Wednesday.
The suspect did so after he failed to break into the building during Yom Kippur prayers, in an attempt to shoot worshipers. Local community members were attending prayers for Judaism's Day of Atonement, during which they fast for 25 hours.
Immediately after the incident, local reports said that several people were involved in the attack and that some had fled. However, German security sources estimated later Wednesday that the attack was carried out by one man: A shooter who has been arrested and identified as 27-year-old Stephan B., who hails from the state of Saxony-Anhalt.
German authorities suspect that the perpetrator was driven by an anti-Semitic motive. The suspect live streamed the attack on Amazon's popular Twitch website, with a GoPro camera he had installed on the helmet he wore. In the video, which lasts 35 minutes and shows the murder of two people, the attacker can be heard cursing Jews and saying that they are "the root of all problems."
According to reports, the suspect initially tried to break into the synagogue, firing and hurling explosives at the building several times.
"We saw via the camera system at our synagogue that a heavily-armed perpetrator with a steel helmet and a gun tried to shoot open our doors," Max Privorozki, Halle's Jewish community chairman, told the Stuttgarter Zeitung newspaper. "The man looked like he was from the special forces...But our doors held.
"We barricaded the doors from inside and waited for the police," he said, adding that about 70-80 people were inside the Humboldt street synagogue.
The U.S. ambassador to Germany later confirmed that ten of the worshippers were American citizens, and that none had been harmed.
After he failed to enter the synagogue, the suspect shot to death a woman near the local Jewish cemetery. He also shot at a man who had been standing next to a nearby shawarma stand.
"Our forces have detained one person," local police said on Twitter. "Please nonetheless remain vigilant." Earlier, police tweeted: "According to initial findings, two people were killed in Halle. There were several shots."
But the president of Germany's Central Council of Jews, Josef Schuster, accused the police of negligence.
"The fact that the synagogue in Halle did not have police protection on a holiday like Yom Kippur is scandalous," he said.
"The brutality of the attack overtakes everything that has happened over recent years and is a deep shock for all Jews in Germany," he added
Taking to Twitter right as the Yom Kippur holiday ended, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu sent condolences to the victims, and said The terrorist attack against the Halle community in Germany on Yom Kippur [...] is another expression of rising anti-Semitism in Europe."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel's government voiced outrage over the attack on Yom Kippur and urged tougher action against anti-Semitic violence.
"That on the Day of Atonement a synagogue was shot at hits us in the heart," Foreign Minister Heiko Maas wrote on Twitter. "We must all act against anti-Semitism in our country."
Anti-Semitism is a particularly sensitive issue in Germany, which during World War Two was responsible for the genocide of 6 million Jews in the Nazi Holocaust. Around 200,000 Jews live today in Germany, a country of around 83 million.
State of emergency
Another Halle city spokesman said an emergency situation had been declared and all residents advised to stay at home. He said that emergency services and police were evacuating people from the synagogue.
Broadcasters showed images of an alleged perpetrator dressed in combat garb.
The identities of the victims were not immediately known.
An unnamed eyewitness told local media the assailant at the synagogue was dressed in combat gear including a helmet, and had thrown several explosive devices into the cemetery.
Another eyewitness, Conrad Roesler, described the attack on the kebab bistro. "He had an assault rifle and a helmet and suddenly he threw what looked like a grenade. It bounced off a door frame...Suddenly he picked up the rifle and fired at the shop...I hid in the toilet," Roesler told n-tv television.
Regional public broadcaster MDR broadcast images of a man in combat clothing firing shots along a street from behind a car.
National rail operator Deutsche Bahn said the main train station in Halle had been closed.
"This is terrible news from Halle and I hope very much that the police catch the perpetrator, or perpetrators, as quickly as possible," federal government spokesman Steffen Seibert said, interrupting a regular government news conference.
The federal prosecutors office said it was taking over the investigation, a procedural step which indicates a possible link to terrorism under German law.
In Berlin, the state interior senator advised police to step up security at Jewish institutions in the German capital.
Despite comprehensive de-Nazification in the post-war era, fears of resurgent anti-Semitic hatred have never completely gone away, whether from fringe, far-right neo-Nazis or more recently from Muslim immigrants.
Occasional past attacks have ranged from the scrawling of Nazi swastikas on gravestones to firebombings at synagogues and even several murders. In recent years, cases of assault or verbal abuse, in some cases directed against people wearing traditional Jewish skullcaps, have raised an outcry.
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