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Two Killed in Germany Shooting After Apparent Failed Attack on Synagogue


Two Killed in Germany Shooting After Apparent Failed Attack on Synagogue

BERLIN—Two people were shot dead and a suspect was arrested, German police said on Wednesday, after what witnesses described as a failed attack on a synagogue in the eastern German city of Halle.

Police said a woman had been shot dead on the street near the synagogue, as had a man in a kebab restaurant.

But a much larger death toll seemed to have been averted, according to the testimony of two witnesses who saw the attacker try and fail to gain access to the synagogue where members of Halle’s Jewish community were gathered for Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar.

Christiane Prinz, 49, who owns a hairdressing salon opposite the synagogue, said the man, dressed in a dark green military outfit, a helmet and a vest, had shot repeatedly at the gates with what she took to be a pump gun.

The man then lobbed a projectile over the gate into the synagogue’s front yard and cemetery, after which there was a loud bang.

A man walks along a street in Halle, eastern Germany, in this screenshot taken from a video by ATV-Studio Halle.

andreas splett/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

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A man walks along a street in Halle, eastern Germany, in this screenshot taken from a video by ATV-Studio Halle.

andreas splett/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

“There was a blast, there was smoke. Then the shooting happened,” said Ms. Prinz, adding that she later saw a body on the ground. “It was so unreal. We locked ourselves up, as we still had two customers in the shop. The attacker quickly ran away.”

René Friedrich, 49, owner of a bakery, Baguette Factory, said he was driving on Humboldtstrasse near the synagogue, when he saw “a military guy on the right side and he threw several projectiles over the wall. Twice there was a loud bang.”

Mr. Friedrich said the man had two firearms he described as machine guns, one slung over his shoulder and one leaning against a wall. He said the attacker then boarded a Volkswagen Golf Family with a license plate from Kreis Euskirchen, in the western German state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

Soon after, Myriam Skalka, 24, was standing at a crossroads near the scene of the second fatal shooting at the kebab restaurant when she saw a man firing a gun.

“He wore a steel helmet with a camera on top,” said Ms. Skalka, adding that the attacker then shot at a police car.

In Berlin, meanwhile, the city’s government said it had ordered police to step up security around Jewish community buildings. Synagogues, Jewish schools, memorials and other buildings associated with the community normally have permanent police protection across the country.

Jewish leaders in Germany have complained in recent months about a rise in anti-Semitic acts in the country, and German authorities have warned about mounting threats against the community coming from far-right extremists and from jihadist groups.

German Interior Minister

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Horst Seehofer

said that prosecutors had enough elements to assume a far-right motivation behind the attack, even though it was too early to make a final determination.

The leader of Halle’s Jewish community, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment, but some other Jewish leaders expressed their dismay.

“We can safely assume that anti-Semitism was the motive for this attack,” said

Josef Schuster,

president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany. “Its brutality goes beyond anything we have seen in Germany in recent years.”

One question that would need answering in the coming days, Mr. Schuster said, was why no police were guarding the Halle synagogue, especially on Yom Kippur.

U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard. A. Grenell tweeted that his officials had identified 10 American citizens who were inside the Halle synagogue at the time of the attack, adding that all were all unharmed.

The office of the general federal prosecutor, which deals with serious crime, has taken over the murder investigation because of the seriousness of the attack and the risks to domestic security, a spokesman said, declining to confirm whether it was treating the case as a terror act.

It wasn’t immediately clear how many suspects were involved, but the Halle police tweeted in the early evening that there was no longer any acute danger for residents and lifted a curfew in the city center. Halle, located some 24 miles from Leipzig, had declared an emergency earlier in the day, with fire departments on alert, public transportation halted, and residents advised not to leave buildings.

Germany’s border police also stepped up controls at airports and train stations around central Germany and were conducting checks on routes to nearby Poland and the Czech Republic.

“We can’t rule out the possibility of a group planning multiple actions,” said a spokesman for the police in Dresden, some 90 miles south-east of Halle.

Authorities also raised the alarm this year about violent racist and anti-Semitic groups. A suspected neo-Nazi terror cell went on trial for terrorism on Sept. 30 for allegedly planning an attack in Berlin.

A pro-immigration politician was killed in June and a bomb targeted the house of another liberal politician in July. The same month, an Eritrean immigrant was gunned down on the street by a self-declared xenophobe.

Police on Monday arrested a 32-year-old Syrian refugee suspected of stealing a truck and driving it into traffic in Limburg, western Germany, leaving eight people wounded. Authorities aren’t currently treating that incident as a terror attack.

In Leipzig, four police minivans and two cars were parked outside Brodyer Synagogue. Police officers stood guard, equipped with machine guns, bulletproof vests and helmets.

Küf Kaufmann, chairman of the Jewish community of Leipzig, walked up to the officers to make sure they would remain there until the Yom Kippur service finished later on Wednesday.

The end of service was to coincide with a large street festival in the city, which was also getting additional police protection, according to an officer.

“It’s sad that we live in a time where people shoot others on the street,” Mr. Kaufmann said. “We need more police here so that our community feels they are being looked after.”

Leipzig’s Jewish community of roughly 1,200 is the largest after Berlin in eastern Germany. The Brodyer Synagoge, nestled between two buildings, is the only one that wasn’t burned during the November 1938 pogrom known as Kristallnacht.

Write to Sara Germano at and Bertrand Benoit at

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