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LATEST: German gunman planned ‘massacre’ in Halle terror attack

The gunman in a deadly anti-Semitic shooting in the German city of Halle was planning a "massacre" in a synagogue, Germany's chief federal prosecutor said Thursday, calling the violence an act of terror.

LATEST: German gunman planned 'massacre' in Halle terror attack
People laid flowers outside the synagogue in Halle on Thursday. Photo: DPA

“What we experienced yesterday was terror. From what we know, the accused Stephan B. aimed to carry out a massacre in the synagogue,” said federal prosecutor Peter Frank.

Two people were shot dead in the eastern German city of Halle, Saxony-Anhalt, on Wednesday, with a synagogue and a kebab shop among the targets. The suspect, identified by media as 27-year-old German Stephan Balliet, filmed the assault and streamed it online.

The victims, a man and a woman, were apparently chosen at random when the assailant failed to gain access to the temple he had besieged with gunfire and homemade explosives, as the frightened congregation barricaded itself inside.

The rampage was streamed live for 35 minutes on Twitch, and eventually seen by some 2,200 people, the online platform said, in a chilling reminder of the mosque attack in Christchurch, New Zealand in March which was also played out online in real-time.

Police subsequently captured the Halle suspect after a gun battle that left him wounded.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, joined by Israeli ambassador Jeremy Issacharoff and local officials, laid flowers outside the synagogue on Thursday before meeting with Jewish community leaders inside.

Steinmeier said Germany had a duty to protect Jews on its soil.

“It must be clear that the state takes responsibility for Jewish life, for the security of Jewish life in Germany,” he said.

“We must protect Jewish life.”

Chancellor Angela Merkel joined a solidarity vigil at a historic synagogue in central Berlin late Wednesday, and firmly condemned the anti-Semitic rampage.

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Angela Merkel at the New Synagogue in Berlin on Wednesday evening. Photo: DPA

But Jewish leaders said that words were not enough, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu joining calls for German authorities to “act resolutely against the phenomenon of anti-Semitism”.

The head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany ripped into the authorities for failing to provide adequate security on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar.

“It is scandalous that the synagogue in Halle is not protected by police on a holiday like Yom Kippur,” said Josef Schuster.

“This negligence has now been bitterly repaid.”

Ronald Lauder, who heads the World Jewish Congress, also stressed the far-right threat. “The fact that, 75 years after the Holocaust, such groups are gaining influence in Germany speaks volumes.”

Germany has taken pride in the rebirth of Jewish life since the Nazis' World War II slaughter of six million Jews across Europe. The community has grown to about 225,000 thanks in large part to an influx from the ex-Soviet Union after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

'We made it out'

In a copy of a 35-minute video obtained by AFP the gunman filmed himself launching into a diatribe against women and Jews and denying the Holocaust, before carrying out the attack.

The video's authenticity has been confirmed by the SITE monitoring group but not by police.

READ ALSO: Halle gunman posted a video on online platform Twitch

The gunman also published an anti-Semitic “manifesto” online more than a week ago, according to SITE director Rita Katz, who said the document showed pictures of the weapons and ammunition he used.

In the video, he was seen trying to force open the synagogue door before shooting dead a female passer-by. He then tried unsuccessfully to blast open the gate of the Jewish cemetery with explosives.

The man was later seen shooting at a patron of a kebab shop about 600 metres (yards) away from the synagogue.

Jewish community leader Max Privorotzki, who was in the Halle synagogue, told the Stuttgarter Zeitung of the harrowing minutes as the site came under assault.

“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.”

Karamba Diaby, Social Democrats MP in Halle, lays tributes for the victims in front of the synagogue. Photo: DPA

Between 70 and 80 people were in the synagogue then.

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

 'Like a professional'

Among those in the synagogue were 10 Americans, as well as several Israelis, who had turned up in Halle especially to join the small local population in celebrating Yom Kippur.

“We've made it out with our lives, in health and amazing spirits,” wrote Rebecca Blady, a Jewish American community leader, who was in the synagogue.

An employee at the kebab shop, Rifat Tekin, meanwhile described the gunman as “calm like a professional”.

“Maybe he has done this many times. Like me making a kebab, he's doing this – like a professional.”

A video shows the gunman opening fire. Photo: DPA

Bild daily spoke to relatives and neighbours who described Balliet as a loner and computer junkie who lived with his mother.

Anti-terrorist prosecutors confirmed on Wednesday they were taking over the probe. Investigators were combing his online traffic for clues to possible links to far-right networks.

Wednesday's shootings came three months after the 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 right-wing extremists.

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

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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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