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UPDATE: What we know about the synagogue shooting in Halle

Here's what we know so far about the deadly shooting at a synagogue in Halle, eastern Germany and the background context around a rise in anti-Semitism in Germany.

UPDATE: What we know about the synagogue shooting in Halle
Police officers in Halle on Wednesday. Photo: DPA

What happened?

Two people, said to be a man and a woman, were shot dead near a synagogue in the German city of Halle in Saxony-Anhalt, around 30 minutes away from Leipzig, on Wednesday. 

A synagogue and a Turkish restaurant were the targets of the attacks.

According to reports, the male victim was shot dead near a snack bar, while the woman was killed in Humboldtstraße.

Two people were also seriously wounded in the shooting and were undergoing treatment in hospital. 

The attack took place on Yom Kippur, one of the holiest days in the Hebrew calendar when there were about 80 worshippers inside the synagogue.

Jewish community leader Max Privorotzki, who was in the Halle synagogue, told Stuttgarter Zeitung that “we saw through the camera of our synagogue that a heavily armed perpetrator wearing a steel helmet and rifle was trying to shoot open our door.”

“The man looked like he was from the special forces. But our doors held firm,” he said, adding that there was also an attempt to shoot open the gate to the neighbouring Jewish cemetery.

“We barricaded our doors from inside and waited for the police,” he said, adding that “in between, we carried on with our service.”

Where exactly did it happen?

The shooting took place in the Paulus quarter north of the city centre around midday, police said. The map below shows the area where the attack happened and where Halle is located within Germany. 

In another incident, a police spokeswoman confirmed that shots were fired in Landsberg, about 15 kilometres from Halle.

Anja Werner, the mayor of Landsberg, later said a car had been hijacked and driven onto a motorway that leads to Munich.

Was it anti-Semitic?

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said that investigators suspect the perpetrators had a far-right, anti-Jewish motive.

“According to what we now know we have to assume that it was at least an anti-Semitic attack,” Seehofer said in a statement.

“According to the federal prosecutor there are sufficient indications for a possible right-wing extremist motive.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel attended an evening vigil at a historic synagogue in central Berlin in honour of the victims of a Yom Kippur attack in the city of Halle Wednesday.

It was called in solidarity with the Jewish community following the shooting which left two dead.

Police have arrested one suspect in connection with the incident. It is not clear if there are further suspects.

Did the gunman film his attack?

The shooter is reported to have posted a video of the attack on the Twitch livestream platform owned by Amazon, the company said. 

In a copy of a 35-minute video obtained by AFP but whose authenticity has not been confirmed by police, the gunman filmed himself launching into a diatribe against women and Jews, before carrying out the attack, in a disturbing repeat of the modus operandi of the attacker in the Christchurch mosque assault earlier this year.

READ ALSO: Two dead in German synagogue attack on Yom Kippur

Police cordoned off streets in Halle. Photo: DPA

Have police caught the suspect?

Police had urged residents to stay indoors amid a manhunt as “perpetrators had fled in a car”.

A suspect was subsequently arrested, and almost six hours later, police lifted the lockdown, assessing that there was no longer acute danger. But it was unclear if other suspects were being sought.

Police urged local residents to remain vigilant but later on Wednesday night German police appeared to suggest the manhunt was over.

Police confirmed to AFP that the man arrested was indeed the suspect in the shooting and was being treated for his injuries.

Is this is a terror attack?

German authorities believe it's likely. Anti-terror prosecutors said they had taken over the probe.

The spokesman for the federal prosecutor's office said the step had been taken given “the particular importance of the case” which he said involved “violent acts that affect the domestic security of the Federal Republic of Germany”.

Security has also been tightened in synagogues in other German cities while Halle is on lockdown. Trains were not stopping at Halle main station in the afternoon.

Police climb over a wall at the shooting scene. Photo: DPA

Is anti-Semitism growing in Germany? 

Germany, like other western countries, has watched with alarm as anti-Semitic and other racist hate speech and violence have increased in recent years as the political climate has grown more polarized.

Anti-Semitic crimes rose by 20 percent in Germany last year, according to Interior Ministry data, which blamed nine out of 10 cases on the extreme right.

Earlier this year, Felix Klein, Germany's commissioner for anti-Semitism said he was “extremely alarmed” by the sharp rise. 

According to the Amadeu Antonio Stiftung, anti-Semitism is more prevalent in east Germany as the history of the Holocaust was not taught as widely as it was in west Germany following the end of World War II. 

What else should we know? 

The attacks also come three months after the shocking assassination-style murder of local pro-migrant politician Walter Lübcke in the western city of Kassel, allegedly by a known neo-Nazi.

Lübcke's killing has deeply shaken Germany, raising questions about whether it has failed to take seriously a rising threat from far-right extremists.

Investigators have been probing the extent of suspect Stephan Ernst's neo-Nazi ties and whether he had links to the far-right militant cell National Socialist Underground (NSU).

Interior Minister Horst Seehofer last month warned of the rising danger of the militant far right, calling it “as big a threat as radical Islamism”.

Seehofer said that police had uncovered 1,091 weapons including firearms and explosives during probes of crimes linked to the far right last year, far more than in 2017 when 676 were found. 

Germany has also been on high alert following several jihadist attacks in recent years claimed by the Islamic State group.

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CRIME

German man jailed for killing petrol station worker in mask row

A 50-year-old German man was jailed for life Tuesday for shooting dead a petrol station cashier because he was angry about being told to wear a mask while buying beer.

German man jailed for killing petrol station worker in mask row

The September 2021 murder in the western town of Idar-Oberstein shocked Germany, which saw a vocal anti-mask and anti-vaccine movement emerge in response to the government’s coronavirus restrictions.

The row started when 20-year-old student worker Alex W. asked the man to put on a mask inside the shop, as required in all German stores at the time.

After a brief argument, the man left.

The perpetrator – identified only as Mario N. – returned about an hour and a half later, this time wearing a mask. But as he bought his six-pack of beer to the till, he took off his mask and another argument ensued.

He then pulled out a revolver and shot the cashier in the head point-blank.

On Tuesday, the district court in Bad-Kreuznach convicted Mario N. of murder and unlawful possession of a firearm, and handed him a life sentence.

READ ALSO: Shock in Germany after cashier shot dead in Covid mask row

Under German law, people given a life sentence can usually seek parole after 15 years. His defence team had sought a sentence of manslaughter, rather than murder.

At the start of the trial, prosecutor Nicole Frohn told how Mario N. had felt increasingly angry about the measures imposed to curb the pandemic, seeing them as an infringement on his rights.

“Since he knew he couldn’t reach the politicians responsible, he decided to kill him (Alex W.),” she said.

Mario N. turned himself in to police the day after the shooting.

German has relaxed most of its coronavirus rules, although masks are still required in some settings, such as public transport.

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