Germany: Synagogue attacker sentenced to life in prison

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The far-right extremist who shot dead two people in Halle, eastern Germany, after trying to shoot his way into a synagogue has received the maximum sentence. The five-month trial was an ordeal for some survivors.


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Candles and flowers are seen at a makeshift memorial in front of the synagogue in Halle, Germany following the attack

The attack in Halle was one of the worst anti-Semitic acts in Germany since World War II

A German court on Monday sentenced the attacker behind a deadly 2019 attack on a synagogue in Halle to life in prison.

Far-right extremist Stephan B. was found guilty of two murders and more than 50 counts of attempted murder at the end of his 26-day trial.

Judge Ursula Mertens noted the particular severity of the crimes as she read the sentence.

Some 45 survivors had attended the trial as co-plaintiffs and were present for the verdict.

The prosecution had demanded a life sentence as well as preventative detention and an acknowledgement of the gravity of the crime. The defense did not challenge the charges, but merely asked for a “fair sentence.”

The attempted attack on the synagogue would have been the worst anti-Semitic atrocity in Germany since the Holocaust.

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What do we know about the attacker?

The defendant is a 28-year-old German man who showed little remorse for his crime during his closing statement at his trial.

He confessed to the attack and used his statement to expound anti-Semitic and deny the Holocaust, which is an offense in Germany.

Watch video02:34

Germany marks one-year anniversary of anti-Semitic Halle attack

What happened in Halle?

On October 9 last year, Stephan B. attempted to blast his way into the city’s synagogue in the eastern German city of Halle, where 52 people were celebrating Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar.

He failed largely because his arsenal of homemade firearms and explosives couldn’t break the locked outer gates.

In frustration, he shot dead two other people — 40-year-old passer-by Jana L. and 20-year-old Kevin S., a workman eating his lunch in a nearby kebab shop — before firing at several police officers and other passers-by as made his escape.

Despite driving past the police outside the synagogue, he was only detained 90 minutes later, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) outside the city.

View of the entrance door to a synagogue in Halle that is ridden with bullet holes following an attempted attack
The synagogue’s locked gate and CCTV system were all that stood between the attacker and the worshipers inside

What was the reaction to the attack?

The atrocity shocked Germany, not least because of the attacker’s intended target: The city’s Jewish community, most of which was inside Halle’s only synagogue, along with Jewish visitors from the US and elsewhere.

Had he succeeded in breaking through the outer gate, Stephan B. would have been responsible for one of the worst anti-Semitic attacks in post-war Germany. His defense attorney Hans-Dieter Weber compared the crime to those committed by the Nazis.

And it offered little relief that Stephan B. had seemingly acted alone. Unlike most of the other far-right terrorists that Germany has seen in the past few years, Stephan B. was not a member of any neo-Nazi terrorist cell, like the National Socialist Underground (NSU), and did not join any extremist political group.

Instead he represented a new, globalized type of the isolated terrorist: He was radicalized by a globe-spanning internet community of often isolated young men that convenes on forums known as “imageboards.”

Because they thrive by being unmoderated, many such imageboards have become breeding grounds for unfiltered anti-Semitism, racism and misogyny. Attacks like Christchurch in March 2019 and Halle have been streamed live onto such channels, specifically to inspire and encourage one another.

The police’s apparent reluctance to investigate this virulent subculture was a consistent theme during the trial, angering some of the survivors, who acted as co-plaintiffs. Testifying as witnesses, some of the officers admitted they had known little about the internet-based culture that radicalized the defendant.


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