German synagogue gunman ‘planned massacre’

German synagogue gunman ‘planned massacre’

The suspect in the attack on a German synagogue wanted to carry out a “massacre” inside the building and had a large stockpile of explosives in his car, prosecutors have said.

Chief federal prosecutor Peter Frank said many questions remain about the suspect in custody, a German citizen identified only as Stephan B.

Mr Frank said “what we experienced yesterday was terror”, and the suspect wanted to create a “worldwide effect” by live-streaming his attack and encouraging others to imitate him.

He said investigators are yet to determine how the suspect got hold of the material used to build home-made weapons and explosives, and whether anyone else knew of his plans.

Stephan B is suspected of two counts of murder and nine of attempted murder.

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

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

On a visit to the synagogue on Thursday, German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier urged the nation to stand up for their Jewish compatriots as he attempted to reassure an unsettled community.

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

“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.”

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 80-strong congregation described waiting behind locked doors for the police to arrive for more than 10 minutes.

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.

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

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.”

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.

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

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