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At least two people were killed when a gunman opened fire near a synagogue in the German city of Halle Wednesday. He had reportedly attempted to storm the house of worship, which was crowded on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar.
Police have arrested one suspect but say other suspects are still on the run. A massive police operation is underway, and police have advised residents in the area to remain indoors. Federal anti-terror prosecutors have now taken over the case and are investigating it as a potential right-wing extremist attack.
The gunman appeared to record the attacks on a head-mounted camera, and the footage was uploaded online in an apparent emulation of the Christchurch terror attacks. In the 35-minute clip, viewed by VICE News, the killer said he doesn’t believe in the Holocaust, before blaming feminism for declining birthrates and rising immigration. “The root of all these problems is the Jew,” he says, before carrying out the attacks.
The shootings took place around 12:15 p.m. local time (6:15 a.m. ET) near a synagogue and a Jewish cemetery in the city's Paulusviertel district. The body of one victim, a woman, was found on the street near the cemetery, while another victim, a man, was shot at a nearby Turkish restaurant, according to reports. Two other victims were taken to hospital with serious injuries.
But the rampage could have been much deadlier, according to the head of the local Jewish community. Max Privorotzki told German news site Spiegel that the attackers had tried to storm the synagogue, where between 70 and 80 people were gathered for Yom Kippur but had been unable to force his or her way inside.
The gunman was wearing military-style fatigues and carried multiple weapons, including a submachine gun, and threw an explosive device into a Jewish cemetery, witnesses told local public broadcaster MDR. The owner of the Turkish restaurant where one of the shootings occurred told Germany news outlet Focus that the gunman wore a helmet-mounted camera, like that worn by the terrorist who attacked worshippers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March.
A witness to the shooting at the restaurant, Konrad Roesler, told news channel NTV he was inside the restaurant when a man wearing a helmet and military fatigues threw a grenade, which hit the door and exploded. The assailant then shot at least once in the restaurant. “The man behind me must be dead,” Roesler said. “I hid in the toilet and locked the door.”
Multiple shots were also reported fired in Landsberg, about 10 miles to the east, but police have not confirmed any link between the incidents.
Germany has been battling a rising threat from far-right extremists, who have repeatedly used violence against Jewish and Muslim targets. In June, Walter Lübcke, a local politician in the city of Kassel, was assassinated by a far-right extremist. Last month, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer warned the country’s militant far right posed "as big a threat as radical Islamism.”
Security has been stepped up at synagogues and Jewish community centers across Germany in response to the attacks.
Wednesday’s shooting came shortly after authorities in four German states carried out a series of raids as part of an investigation into a string of threats suspected to have been sent to mosques, political parties and media organizations by neo-Nazis. But officials said there was no indication of any link between the shootings and Wednesday’s arrests of six suspects in that case.
Christoph Heubner, executive vice president of the International Auschwitz Committee, said the attack highlighted the need for German authorities to urgently confront the far-right. “The fact that an attack on Jewish people can take place on the highest holiday of Judaism in Germany is deeply painful to survivors, reminding them of the darkest and most murderous times of anti-Semitism in Germany,” he said.
Cover: A person lies on a road in Halle, Germany, Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019. A gunman fired several shots on Wednesday in German city of Halle and at least two got killed, according to local media FOCUS online. The gunman is on the run and police have sealed off the surrounding area. (Sebastian Willnow/dpa via AP)