Authorities in the eastern German city of Halle say they are dealing with a “rampage situation” after gunmen reportedly targeted a synagogue and a kebab shop in the city, killing two people.
Several shots were fired in the Paulus quarter north of the city centre around midday, police said. The head of the the Jewish community in Halle, Max Privorotzki, told Spiegel magazine that gunmen in military gear had tried to force their way into a synagogue but were repelled by security personnel.
The Jewish community has been celebrating Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year in Judaism. There were 70 to 80 people in the synagogue at the time of the incident, Privorotzki said.
One of the attackers had tried to open the door to the synagogue and then the gate to the cemetery by shooting at the locks. “We barricaded the doors from the inside and waited for the police”, Privorotzki added. Worship had continued after the attack, he said.
Witnesses also said the attackers had fired at a nearby kebab shop, reportedly killing a male customer inside. Two people were taken to hospital with bullet wounds, police confirmed.
Germany’s public prosecutor general took charge of investigations but would not yet comment on a possible background behind the attack. “We are investigating into all possible directions, including antisemitic and rightwing extremist motives”, a spokesperson told The Guardian.
Police later said one suspect had been arrested but urged people to remain vigilant. It did not give any details of the person arrested and said police were in the process of stabilising the situation.
“Our forces have detained one person,” a tweet from the police said. “Please remain alert, however. We have deployed forces in and around Halle and are stabilising the situation until we have all the relevant information.”
According to Spiegel, the two attackers had separated after the initial assault, with one man arrested by police on the motorway after hijacking a taxi.
A video, filmed on a mobile phone and broadcast by regional TV station MDR, showed a man in green military gear standing at the back of a parked car, firing a rifle.
A resident interviewed by news agency dpa said a man dressed like a police officer had taken aim and shot a young girl with an automatic rifle outside the synagogue, and then thrown a hand grenade over a wall at the Jewish cemetery. The report could not be confirmed.
Another witness said a man wearing a military outfit and helmet had walked up to the Kiez Döner kebab shop on nearby Ludwig-Wucherer-Strasse and thrown a stun grenade at the building that bounced off the door frame. The man had then fired a shot inside the kebab shop, where five or six people were present, the witness said.
The central train station was closed while the area was under lockdown, the rail company Deutsche Bahn said.
German chancellor Angela Merkel expressed grief at the news of the shootings through her spokesperson Steffen Seibert,
Zu den schrecklichen Nachrichten aus #Halle: Wir trauern um die beiden ermordeten Menschen. Wir hoffen, dass die Sicherheitskräfte den oder die Täter schnell fassen können. Es ist wichtig, den Hinweisen der @Polizei_HAL Folge zu leisten, damit niemand weiteres zu Schaden kommt.
The state premier of Saxony-Anhalt, Rainer Haseloff, said he was “shocked” by what he called a “cowardly assault on peaceful coexistence in our country”.