By Hannibal Hanschke
HALLE, Germany (Reuters) – Germany must crack down on hate, violence and hostility, Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday, a day after a gunman attacked a synagogue and killed two people nearby in a live-streamed rampage.
There could have been many more victims had the suspected perpetrator, German national Stephan B., breached the gates to the synagogue in the eastern city of Halle, Merkel said.
The gunman failed to get into the synagogue in Wednesday’s attack, but went on to kill two bystanders in his live-streamed rampage, which appeared to be modelled on last year’s gun attack on a New Zealand mosque.
“I am, like millions of people in Germany, shocked and dejected by the crime that was perpetrated in Halle yesterday,” Merkel said to loud applause in an address to a trade union congress in Nuremberg.
“We all know, we only just avoided a terrible attack on the people in the synagogue,” she added. “There could have been many more victims.”
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 in a nearby kebab restaurant.
Two other people were injured but regional broadcaster MDR said their condition was not critical.
“We are happy about every synagogue, every Jewish community and all Jewish life in our country,” Merkel said.
“That means … the representatives of the state must use all the means of the state to crack down on hate, violence and hostility towards people.”
A military source said Stephan B. had done military service, but received no special training. His full name cannot be published under German privacy laws.
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.
Earlier, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited the synagogue and told reporters: “Today is a day of shame and disgrace … It fills us all with horror that an attack took place in our country, a country with this history”.
“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.”
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 Islamist 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 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.
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 sceptical 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 Stephan B., who was detained on Wednesday.
(Additional reporting by Thomas Escritt, Sabine Siebold and Michelle Martin; Writing by Paul Carrel; Editing by Giles Elgood)