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CRIME

‘They’re shooting at us!’: Inside the Halle synagogue targeted by gunman

American Rebecca Blady was hoping to spend a day in retreat from the outside world, turning to fasting and worship at Yom Kippur in eastern German city Halle. Then everything changed.

'They're shooting at us!': Inside the Halle synagogue targeted by gunman
The synagogue in Halle (Saale). Photo: DPA

She and her husband Jeremy, two Jewish orthodox community leaders who recently moved to Germany, had eagerly agreed to celebrate in the “shul” or synagogue there, which rarely has enough worshippers to fill its space on high holidays.

In the event, they ended up being survivors and witnesses of a day of extrordinary violence.

With the pair came around twenty young practising Jews from the US, Germany
and Israel to “bring some extra energy to the prayers,” she told AFP, adding that she also brought with her sacred objects and photocopies of religious texts and songs.

READ ALSO: 'It doesn't change my feeling about Germany': Jewish community fearful but defiant after Halle attack

To reach the temple, she had to make her way through the spartan blocks of flats characteristic of the city in the former communist East.

“We had incredible prayers, full of beautiful songs and even dance, until we suddenly heard a loud bang outside,” Blady said.

Besieged

“We were in the middle of the services, in particular the part where we were reading the Torah” when they heard the attacker.

“It sounded like it could have been a gunshot, maybe an explosion. We really had no idea.”

Some of the congregation ran to the display screens connected to the outdoor security cameras.

After a few moments of silence, the sounds of blasts came again.

Over anxious minutes — police say between around 12:03 and 12:11 pm, when the first officers arrived — the man outside tried to force the door with explosives and a shotgun.

He was later identified as a 27-year-old German, who filmed his attempt to
storm the synagogue — opening the video with an antisemitic diatribe.

Many in Halle stand front of the Holocaust memorial during a solidarity rally on Thursday. Photo: DPA

“Go somewhere away from the windows, where you can be safe, because they're shooting at us!”, the watchers said.

The roughly 50 people gathered inside fled upstairs where it seemed safer, or into a back room of the building.

Most didn't even have phones on them to contact the outside world, leaving them to wait silently while imagining the worst.

“It was a very scary thing… just a chilling experience,” Blady said.

READ ALSO: German gunman planned 'massacre' in Halle terror attack

But after 20 minutes, the group were reached by police, who decided to lock down the synagogue, keeping the worshippers inside under police protection.

Outside lay the body of a female passer-by shot by the attacker, who had
then fled to a nearby kebab shop and killed another man.

Prayers

Blady decided to keep her group's mind off the threatening circumstances with prayer, keeping them going for two full hours.

Only at five pm were the congregation evacuated to a nearby hospital.

They “prayed neilah here to end the day with extra fervour and heard the sound of the shofar” (a religious instrument made from a ram's horn), as well as breaking their fast, Blady said.

After that, they were brought to safety in a hotel under police watch.

“God counted us all there, one by one, as deserving of life,” Blady said.

“This kind of news, it's not new and it's not unique to Germany any more… it can happen now, anywhere in the world.”

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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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