BERLIN — A gunman killed two people outside a synagogue in the eastern German city of Halle on Wednesday, apparently filming his attack on a head-mounted camera in a method that had chilling echoes of a far-right attack on two New Zealand mosques earlier this year.
In the video footage, a suspect calling himself “Anon” says the Holocaust did not happen and lists what he sees the world’s problems, including feminism.
“The root of all these problems is the Jew,” he says, in a clip shared by the International Center for the Study of Radicalization. The complete video lasts more than half an hour, according to the London-based think tank.
The footage of the attacker, wearing a green jacket that matched witness videos, is yet to be confirmed by German authorities. The SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks online extremism, also linked the footage to the attack and said that white supremacist communities online had applauded the attacker.
The incident in the town of 240,000 people took place on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year in Judaism.
Law enforcement officials had earlier said they could not immediately confirm that the synagogue was the target of the attack, or that anti-Semitism was the motive.
Germany’s federal prosecutor took over the investigation in a move a spokeswoman said “means that one can assume that this case is of relevance to the security of Germany.”
“Whether this case had an anti-Semitic motive still has to be determined,” the spokeswoman Carolin Urban said. “We do not exclude any possibility.”
Anti-Semitic hate crimes have risen significantly in recent years in Germany and other European countries, while deadly synagogue attacks have also rocked the United States.
Brenton Tarrant, the 28-year-old white supremacist charged with shooting dead 51 people in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March, also recorded the attack on a head mounted camera.
In Germany, there have been about 1,500 anti-Semitic verbal and violent attacks annually in recent years, but researchers say the actual figures are higher. One recent survey found that about 70 percent of anti-Semitic incidents go unreported, according to researchers at the Technical University of Berlin.
Earlier this year, an anti-Semitism representative for the German government sparked controversy when he said that it might not be safe for Jews in Germany to wear traditional kippah skullcaps in public.
There were around 70 or 80 worshipers in the synagogue at the time, Max Privorozki, chairman of the local Jewish community, told Der Spiegel. He described watching a gunman attempting to enter the synagogue via its security cameras. Synagogues in Germany are usually guarded by armed police.
Blyth Crawford, a research fellow at the ICSR, said that the video shows the assailant rattling the doors to the synagogue and using improvised explosives and a weapon to try to enter before shooting a woman who is walking past and then driving to a kebab shop, where he shoots another person.
A witness interviewed by German broadcaster n-TV said he was at a kebab shop when the gunman approached, threw an explosive at the store and shot inside at least once.
“All the customers next to me ran,” the witness said, adding that there were around five or six people inside at the time. “I locked myself quietly in the bathroom. I wrote to my family that I love them.”
The U.S. ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, said 10 Americans were inside the synagogue at the time of the attack. “All are safe and unharmed,” he tweeted.
Police spokeswoman Ulrike Diener initially said that multiple suspects were believed to have fled the scene, adding that there were reports of injuries. However, the video showed a single assailant and it was not immediately clear whether other suspects remained at large on Wednesday evening.
Shots were also fired in the town of Landsberg, about 10 miles east of Halle, according to German media reports citing police.
Authorities urged those in the area to stay in their homes or office buildings, as all public transport was halted. Drago Bock, a spokesman for the city, said Halle had been on a state of “high alert” since the incident began at around 12:45 p.m.
“All emergency services have been deployed,” he said.
In the neighboring federal state of Saxony, authorities sent additional police units to protect synagogues, a spokesman confirmed.
“We have to fight against anti-Semitism in our country,” tweeted German foreign minister Heiko Maas. “My thoughts are with the dead and injured, their relatives, and the police in these difficult hours.”
Morris reported from Warsaw.