Two people were killed when a neo-nazi and anti-semitic activist opened fire outside of a shul in the city of Halle in Germany on Yom Kippur.
Police told reporters that at least two people had been killed after the shooter, who has been identified as Stephan Balliet, a neo-nazi and self-proclaimed anti-semite. The attack began around noon local time on Humboldtstrasse, which houses the synagogue and Jewish cemetery.
Witnesses reported that a gunman, wearing a helmet-mounted with a camera and military-style clothing, attempted to storm the synagogue and then shot a female passerby.
The gunman posted the attack via live stream on the social media app Twitch. The headcam footage showed the attacker spending several minutes attempting to break into the synagogue, and swearing in German repeatedly when he couldn’t succeed at breaking in. Balliet opened fire at one of the security gates in the perimeter of the synagogue and then threw homemade grenades into the nearby cemetery.
A spokesperson for the Jewish community in Halle told reporters that some 80 Jews from the community were inside the shul at the time of the attack. Thankfully, security measures at its entrance withstood the attack.
The German Interior Minister confirmed that the attack was instigated by anti-Semitism and that the attacker is a known right-wing extremist and activist. He announced on the live stream video that he is also an anti-Semite and a Holocaust denier.
“Feminism is the cause of declining birth rates in the West, which acts as a scapegoat for mass immigration, and the root of all these problems is the Jew,” Balliet said during the video.
Those killed were a woman who was passing the Shul on the street when the gunman came by. He shot her several times in the chest. Then he headed down the street to a Kebab Shop where he opened fire on numerous other victims, injuring some and killing another.
The filming of Wednesday’s attack echoed another horrific shooting halfway around the world when a far-right white supremacist in March killed 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand and livestreamed much of the attack on Facebook. That massacre drew strong criticism of social media giants for not immediately finding and blocking such a violent video.
Wednesday’s assault followed attacks in the United States over the past year on synagogues in Pittsburgh and Poway, California.
The head of Halle’s Jewish community, Max Privorozki, told news magazine Der Spiegel that a surveillance camera at the entrance of the synagogue showed a person trying to break into the building.
“The assailant shot several times at the door and also threw several Molotov cocktails, firecrackers or grenades to force his way in,” he said. “But the door remained closed — God protected us. The whole thing lasted perhaps five to 10 minutes.”
A video clip shown on regional public broadcaster MDR showed a man in a helmet and an olive-colored top getting out of a car and firing four shots from behind the vehicle from a long-barreled gun.
Conrad Roessler said he was in the kebab shop when a man with a helmet and a military jacket threw something that looked like a grenade, which bounced off the doorframe. He said the man then shot into the shop.
“All the customers next to me ran, of course I did too. I think there were five or six of us in there,” Roessler told n-tv television. “The man behind me probably died.”
“I hid in the toilet,” he added. “The others looked for the back entrance. I didn’t know if there was one. I locked myself quietly in this toilet, and wrote to my family that I love them, and waited for something to happen.”
Police then came into the shop, he said.
Schuster offered his condolences to the relatives of “the two completely uninvolved people” who were killed and his sympathy to those were wounded. German authorities didn’t give any details on the victims.
The SITE Intelligence Group said the video on livestreaming site Twitch started with the assailant saying “my name is Anon and I think the Holocaust never happened.” He mentioned feminism and “mass immigration” and said that “the root of all these problems is the Jew.”
The video, which apparently was filmed with a head-mounted camera, showed the perpetrator driving up to the synagogue in a car packed with ammunition and what appeared to be home-made explosives.
He tried two doors and placed a device at the bottom of a gate, then fired at a woman trying to walk past his parked car. The assailant then fired rounds into the synagogue’s door, which didn’t open. He drove a short distance to park opposite the kebab shop. He fired at what appeared to be an employee, while customers scrambled away.
Twitch said it was “shocked and saddened” by the attack. “We worked with urgency to remove this content and will permanently suspend any accounts found to be posting or reposting content of this abhorrent act,” it said in an emailed response to a query about Wednesday’s events. It wasn’t immediately able to confirm who streamed the footage.
Twitch, owned by e-commerce giant Amazon, is best known as a site for watching others play video games, sometimes with commentary and tips for viewers. Wednesday’s attack appeared to be the first real-world violence livestreamed on Twitch, said Hannah Bloch-Wehba, a law professor at Drexel University. She said it was hard to guess why Twitch was chosen, although she noted that recent attempts by Facebook and Twitter to crack down on such material may be forcing attackers to look for new outlets.
Federal prosecutors, who in Germany handle cases involving suspected terrorism or national security, took over the investigation into the attack in Halle.
Authorities said shortly after the shooting that a person had been arrested, but advised residents to stay indoors for several hours as they worked to determine whether there were other assailants. They gave no information on the suspect but Der Spiegel and dpa, which cited unidentified security sources, said the suspect is a 27-year-old German citizen from Saxony-Anhalt state, where Halle is located. They identified him only as Stephan B.
Synagogues are often protected by police in Germany and have been for many years amid concerns over far-right and Islamic extremism, but Schuster said that there was no police presence outside the Halle synagogue on Wednesday.
“I am convinced that if there had been police protection there, in all probability the assailant would not have been able to attack a second site,” he said.
Security was stepped up at synagogues in other cities after the shooting in Halle.
German officials rushed to condemn the attack. Chancellor Angela Merkel visited a synagogue in Berlin on Wednesday evening in a show of solidarity.
“Shots being fired at a synagogue on Yom Kippur, the festival of reconciliation, hits us in the heart,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Twitter. “We must all act against anti-Semitism in our country.”
The U.S. Embassy in Berlin said “today’s attack is an attack on all of us, and the perpetrators must be held accountable.” Ambassador Richard Grenell said that 10 Americans were inside the synagogue at the time of the attack, and “all are safe and unharmed.”