HALLE: Germans need to stand together against extremist violence and protect Jewish life, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on Thursday after visiting a synagogue where a gunman began an attack a day earlier in which he killed two people.
Though the gunman did not get into the synagogue in Wednesday’s attack, he went on to kill two bystanders in a live-streamed rampage, which appeared to be modeled on last year’s gun attack on a New Zealand mosque.
A military source said the suspected perpetrator, German national Stephan B, had done military service but received no special training. His full name cannot be published under German privacy laws.
“Today is a day of shame and disgrace,” Steinmeier said outside the synagogue in the eastern German city of Halle.
“It fills us all with horror that an attack took place in our country, a country with this history, on a full synagogue on the highest Jewish day of celebration,” she added.
In a video of more than 30 minutes that the attacker live-streamed from a helmet camera, he was heard cursing his failure to enter the synagogue before shooting dead a woman passer-by in the street and a man inside a nearby kebab restaurant.
Two other people were injured but regional broadcaster MDR said their condition was not critical.
German media said investigators had searched the attacker’s home. MDR reported that he lived with his mother in Benndorf, west of Halle. “He planned to kill people,” MDR quoted one investigator as saying.
Most Jewish institutions in Germany’s large cities have a near-permanent police guard due to occasional anti-Semitic attacks by both far-right activists and militants.
Josef Schuster, president of the council of Germany’s Jewish community, criticised police for not being stationed outside the synagogue that was attacked as dozens prayed inside.
“If the police had been stationed outside the synagogue, then this man could have been disarmed before he could attack the others,” Schuster told Deutschlandfunk public radio.
In the event, the synagogue’s solid locked gates and high walls provided ample protection against the attacker’s seemingly improvised weapons.
“I’m very sure the overwhelming majority of this society in Germany wants Jewish life to be part of this country,” Steinmeier said. “We must protect Jewish life.”
Schuster said that while it was normal practice in his experience for all synagogues to have police guards while services were being conducted inside, this appeared not to be the case in the state of Saxony-Anhalt, where Halle is located.
However, the head of Germany’s police union was skeptical 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.
Germany’s federal prosecutors ramped up their legal case on Thursday, saying they would ask the investigating judge at the Federal Court of Justice to issue an arrest warrant against shooting suspect Stephan B, who was detained on Wednesday.