A gunman suspected of attacking a German synagogue and killing two people nearby was motivated by far-right views, German authorities say.
- Germany’s federal prosecutor said Mr Balliet wanted to kill as many people as possible in the synagogue
- The suspect has been labelled “anti-Semitic” and “a terrorist” by officials
- He reportedly faces two counts of murder and nine counts of attempted murder
The gunman, identified by several local media outlets as Stephan Balliet, allegedly modelled Wednesday’s attack on the shooting spree at two Christchurch mosques earlier this year, in which 51 people were killed.
Mr Balliet tried to force his way into the synagogue in the city of Halle on Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, then shot two people dead outside the building.
He shot at the door of the synagogue but failed to breach the solid locked gate and reach the estimated 70 to 80 people inside observing the holy day.
Reports said the gunman shot a woman dead in the street before killing a man in a nearby kebab shop.
Mr Balliet reportedly faces two counts of murder and nine counts of attempted murder, according to German media reports.
Witnesses said shots were fired into a synagogue and kebab shop, with a grenade thrown into a Jewish cemetery. (DPA via AP: Sebastian Willnow)
Federal prosecutor Peter Frank said Mr Balliet was “a man who was influenced by scary anti-Semitism, xenophobia and racism, [and] was heavily armed”.
He said the suspect wanted to carry out a “massacre” and kill as many people as possible, pointing out that four kilograms of explosives were found in his car.
“What we experienced [on Wednesday] was terrorism,” Mr Frank said.
“He armed himself with many weapons, some possibly self-made, and had a large quantity of explosives.”
Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht said right-wing extremism was “one of the biggest threats” facing society, and vowed to get tougher on online platforms if they carried threats or material that incited hatred.
“We, unfortunately have to face the truth, which — for some time already — is that the threat of anti-Semitism, right-wing extremism and right-wing terrorism is very high,” Federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier spoke to the media after the synagogue attack. (Reuters: Fabrizio Bensch)
On Thursday, a police helicopter flew Mr Balliet to the Federal Court of Justice in Karlsruhe in south-western Germany.
He wore a white outfit, was handcuffed, had shackles on his legs and a bandage on his neck as police special forces helped him out of the aircraft and took him to the court building to appear before the federal judges.
Holger Stahlknecht, Interior Minister of Saxony Anhalt, the state where the city Halle is located, said the suspect was not known to intelligence authorities before the attack.
He said police took seven minutes to reach the synagogue after receiving the first report a woman had been shot outside the building.
A military source said Mr Balliet had done military service, but received no special training.
Questions remained about how he armed himself and whether he had any accomplices.
“Stephan [Balliet] wanted to be copycat in two senses,” Mr Frank said.
“He wanted to mimic similar acts that happened in the past, and he also wanted to incite others to copycat his acts.”
Merkel vows ‘zero tolerance’ for hate after Halle attack
Speaking at the congress of Labor union IG Metall in Nuremberg, German Chancellor Angela Merkel vowed there would be “zero tolerance” against hate in the country.
She said she was “shocked” by the synagogue attack and noted that a bigger “massacre” could have occurred at the synagogue.
“I am, like millions of people in Germany, shocked and dejected by the crime that was perpetrated in Halle yesterday,” Ms Merkel said.
Most Jewish institutions in large German cities have a near-permanent police guard due to the threat of anti-Semitic attacks by both far-right activists and Islamist militants.
Josef Schuster, president of the council of Germany’s 200,000-strong Jewish community, criticised police for not being present at the synagogue in Halle.
“If police had been stationed outside the synagogue, then this man could have been disarmed before he could attack the others,” Mr Schuster told Deutschlandfunk public radio.
But the head of Germany’s police union was sceptical about providing that level of protection.
“We’d have to guard every synagogue, every church, every mosque, every holy place in Germany around the clock, so I don’t know if this was a mistake or if this really couldn’t have been foreseen,” Oliver Malchow told ARD public television.