German government warns of ‘elevated’ risk of far-right attacks after anti-Semitic shooting

There is an "elevated" risk of more far-right attacks in Germany after two people were killed by a gunman targeting a synagogue in the city of Halle this week, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer warned Friday.

German government warns of 'elevated' risk of far-right attacks after anti-Semitic shooting
Interior Minister Horst Seehofer on ZDF public television on October 11th. Photo: DPA

“The threat posed by right-wing anti-semitism and terrorism is elevated in Germany,” Seehofer said on ZDF public television.

This means such an attack could happen “at any moment,” he added.

Seehofer said there are an estimated 24,000 far right extremists in Germany. He added that half of them are considered potentially violent with “a very high affinity for firearms.”

Seehofer's warning came two days after Stephan Balliet, a 27-year-old loner, was arrested for killing two people after trying to gain entry to a synagogue in the eastern town of Halle where dozens of worshippers were marking Yom Kippur.

Though he failed to batter his way into the building, the assailant, armed with four apparently home-made rifles and grenades, killed a female passer-by and then shot dead a man who tried to take refuge in a kebab restaurant.

Police eventually captured Balliet — who had four kilos (nine pounds) of explosives in his car — after a gun battle that left him wounded.

Earlier Friday, a spokesman for the federal prosecutor's office in Karlsruhe said Balliet had confessed to the assault and confirmed ”far-right and anti-Semitic motives.”

Given the range of weapons he had on his person, the death toll could have been far higher had Balliet managed to force his way inside the synagogue.

He filmed and live-streamed the 35-minute assault as he raved at Jews and denied the Holocaust. He also published an online manifesto expressing anti-Semitic sentiments.

“This manifesto appeared on the internet the day after his act,” said Seehofer, who added that synagogues and other Jewish venues would in future be better protected.

The minister announced the creation of new security service posts to that end and added that the government would swiftly enact a ban on six small far right groups.

“We are extremely alert on this matter,” he insisted.


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One injured in school shooting in Bremerhaven

A 21-year-old gunman opened fire at a secondary school in northern Germany on Thursday, badly injuring a female member of staff before being arrested, police said.

One injured in school shooting in Bremerhaven

The incident happened at the Lloyd Gymnasium school in the centre of Bremerhaven, a city on Germany’s North Sea coast, on Thursday morning. 

“The armed person has been arrested and is in police custody,” police said in a statement. The injured woman was not a pupil, police said.

They said the suspect had entered the school building and fired at a female member of staff, who was “seriously injured”.

The alarm was quickly raised and police said they detained the suspect at a nearby location soon after and had seized his weapon at the scene.

The injured woman is being treated in hospital.

A video circulating on social media and German news sites appeared to capture the moment the gunman was arrested.

A man dressed in black is seen lying face down on a street corner, with a weapon next to him, before being handcuffed by officers.

But there was no immediate confirmation of reports the alleged weapon was a crossbow.

Bremerhaven police tweeted in the morning that a large deployment was under way in the city centre and asked residents to avoid the Mayor-Martin-Donandt square and surrounding streets, in the vicinity of the Lloyd secondary school.

Local news site Nord24 said a school pupil had heard shots being fired and called the police. Pupils barricaded themselves in their classrooms.

Police launched a large-scale operation and cordoned off the area around the school while they carried out inquiries. 

By mid-afternoon, police said special forces had completed their search and the last people had left the building.

Authorities set up a phone hotline for concerned parents. Many parents had gathered in front of the school after being alerted by their children.

Pupils and staff are receiving psychological counselling.

Local media said only around 200 people were on the school grounds, fewer than normal because of exam times.

In a separate incident on Thursday, police in the eastern city of Leipzig said they had detained a 21-year-old student still at secondary school after being tipped off by Snapchat that he had posted pictures of himself with a gun and made unspecified threats.

The US social media platform alerted German authorities, prompting Leipzig police to take action.

 A police spokesman said that the 21-year-old did not pose a real threat, however, and only possessed an airsoft gun, a replica firearm that uses non-lethal, usually plastic, pellets.

‘Strict gun laws’

School shootings are relatively rare in Germany, a country with some of the strictest gun laws in Europe. But a recent spate has rattled the population.

Last week, investigators in Germany’s city of Essen said they foiled a school bomb assault, as they arrested a 16-year-old who is suspected to have been planning a “Nazi terror attack”.

Police in Essen stormed the teen’s room overnight, taking him into custody and uncovering 16 “pipe bombs”, as well as anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim material.

In January, an 18-year-old student opened fire in a lecture hall at Heidelberg University in southwestern Germany, killing a young woman and
injuring three others before fleeing the scene and turning the weapon on himself.

In 2009, a former pupil killed nine students, three teachers and three passers-by in a school shooting at Winnenden, in the German state of Baden-Württemberg. The gunman then killed himself.

In 2002, a 19-year-old former student, apparently in revenge for having been expelled, shot dead 16 people including 12 teachers and two students at a school in the central German city of Erfurt. He too then killed himself.

The Winnenden and Erfurt massacres were carried out with legal weapons and spurred Germany to tighten gun laws.

The country currently requires anyone under 25 to pass a psychiatric exam before applying for a gun licence.