A 28-year-old German right-wing extremist has gone on trial for a Yom Kippur attack on a synagogue that is considered one of the worst anti-Semitic assaults in the country’s post-war history, telling the court he saw Jews as a threat to the white race.
Stephan Balliet is alleged to have posted an anti-Semitic essay before carrying out the October 9 attack in the eastern German city of Halle. He broadcast the shooting live on a popular gaming site.
Pleas are not entered in the German system but Balliet did not deny the crime as his trial opened, telling the court he decided to turn to violence in 2015 when Germany opened its doors to more than a million migrants, primarily from Muslim countries.
Asked by the presiding judge how that prompted him to attack Jews four years later, he told the court: “Jews are the main cause of white genocide, and want to establish a new world order,” NTV news reported.
He is alleged to have repeatedly tried, but failed, to force his way into the synagogue with 52 worshippers inside. Prosecutors allege he then shot and killed a 40-year-old woman in the street outside and a 20-year-old man at a nearby kebab shop as an “appropriate target” with immigrant roots.
He apologised to the court for killing the woman passing by, saying it had been an automatic reaction when he saw her.
“I didn’t want to kill whites,” he said, according to NTV.
The trial comes at a time when anti-Semitic crimes have reached their highest level since Germany started tracking such acts in 2001, amid an overall increase in right-wing extremist crime.
Balliet is charged with 13 crimes including murder and attempted murder, along with bodily harm, incitement and other charges. Forty-three victims and relatives have joined the trial as co-plaintiffs, as allowed under German law.
The start of the Magdeburg state court trial was delayed for two hours due to intense interest from dozens of national and international reporters and others who lined up for hours in front of the court building to get through security.
One of the co-plaintiffs, Christina Feist, who was in the synagogue on the day of the attack, urged the German media not to allow Balliet to use the trial to spread his racist theories.
“I beg of you all, don’t only report about the perpetrator, don’t only report about his perspective,” she said, according to the dpa news agency. “Do not give him the platform he wants.”
The suspect, clad in black, with a blue face mask and shaved head, was taken to the courtroom by special forces with bulletproof vests and covered faces. He was handcuffed and his feet were shackled, dpa reported.
Everyone could become a target of far-right crime, of far-right terroristsIgor Matviyets
Igor Matviyets, a member of Halle’s Jewish community, who stood vigil with dozens of others outside the court building, said he worried the assault would be considered a crime against Jews only and not as an attack on the entire society.
“That is something I’m trying to fight against,” he told the Associated Press. “Because everyone could become a target of far-right crime, of far-right terrorists.”
During his attack, Balliet was armed with eight firearms, several explosive devices, a helmet and a protective vest, according to the indictment. Prosecutors have said the weapons were apparently homemade.
Following the attack, the suspect fled the city, wounding another two people in a small town near Halle where he abandoned his car and stole a taxi. Balliet was arrested about 90 minutes after the attack as he got out of the taxi, which had been in an accident.
The head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Joseph Schuster, called the attack “one of the worst anti-Semitic incidents of the last years in Germany”.
“The suffering of the people in the Halle synagogue on Yom Kippur remains inconceivable,” he said in a statement. “It was a miracle that they could evade this massacre.”