Merkel vows to fight after attack at German synagogue

Updated October 11, 2019

HALLE: Chancellor Angela Merkel vowed on Thursday there would be “zero tolerance” for hate in Germany after an attempted massacre at a synagogue, as Jews demanded action to protect the community from the rising threat of neo-Nazi violence.

Two people were shot dead in the eastern German city of Halle on Wednesday, with a synagogue the prime target on Yom Kippur. The suspect, 27-year-old German Stephan Balliet, filmed the assault and live-streamed it.

The victims, reportedly a German man and woman, appeared to be chosen at random when the assailant failed to gain access to the temple he had besieged with gunfire and homemade explosives, as the frightened congregation barricaded itself inside. Police subsequently captured the Halle suspect after a gun battle that left him wounded.

Merkel told a trade union convention that the German state and civil society must do everything in their power to stand up to “hate, violence and contempt for human life”. “There must be zero tolerance,” she said.

Late Wednesday, Merkel joined a solidarity vigil at a historic Berlin synagogue, and firmly condemned the anti-Semitic rampage.

President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, joined by Israeli ambassador Jeremy Issacharoff and local officials, laid flowers on Thursday at the Halle temple before meeting Jewish community representatives inside.

He later told reporters that the country had a duty to protect Jews on its soil, also in light of its historical guilt for the Holocaust. “It must be clear that the state takes responsibility for Jewish life, for the security of Jewish life in Germany,” he said.

Federal prosecutor Peter Frank said Balliet would be charged with two counts of murder and nine counts of attempted murder in what he called a “terror” act that had been planned to be a “massacre”. Balliet had packed four kilogrammes of explosives in his car, and “wanted to enter the synagogue to kill many people”, Frank added.

But Jewish leaders said that pledges were not enough, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu joining calls for Germany to “act resolutely” against anti-Semitism.

The head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Josef Schuster, called it “scandalous” the authorities had failed to provide adequate security on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. “This negligence has now been bitterly repaid.”

Without mentioning the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) by name, Merkel and Steinmeier condemned xenophobic rhetoric they said had grown increasingly mainstream and dangerous. AfD parliamentary group leader Alice Weidel pushed back, saying critics were “exploiting this horrible crime to defame their political rivals with baseless defamation”.

In a copy of a 35-minute video obtained by AFP the gunman filmed himself launching into a diatribe against women and Jews and denying the Holocaust, before carrying out the attack.

The daily Bild spoke to relatives and neighbours who described Balliet, a former soldier, as a loner and computer junkie who lived with his mother. In the streamed video he repeatedly calls himself a “failure” and a “loser”.

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