Shots were fired outside a synagogue and into a kebab shop in an eastern German city on Wednesday, Judaism’s holiest day, witnesses said. Police said that two people were killed and the assailant or assailants fled.
An attacker tried to force his way into the synagogue in the city of Halle but did not get in as 70 to 80 people inside were observing Yom Kippur, a local Jewish leader said. German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said on Wednesday the shooting was anti-Semitic and said federal prosecutors who are investigating believe there it could be a right-wing extremist attack, Reuters reports.
“Based on current information, we have to assume that it was at least an anti-Semitic attack. According to the federal prosecutors’ office, there are enough indications that it was possibly a right-wing extremist motive. They have taken over the investigations,” Seehofer said in a statement, according to the news agency.
Witnesses told German media they saw a man open fire wearing camouflage before fleeing in a car. Halle’s police force later sent a tweet saying they had detained one person in connection to the attack. They did not say whether they were seeking any additional suspects.
Officers were out in force across Halle, a city of 240,000. They initially urged residents to stay at home, and the city’s train station was closed. Several hours later, police said that there was no longer an “acute” danger to the population and residents could go back into the streets.
They didn’t specify why the assessment had changed, but news agency dpa and newspaper Bild cited unidentified security sources as saying the evidence points to a lone assailant.
Video posted to social media showed a man wearing tactical gear including body armor and a helmet firing several rounds. It wasn’t clear what weapon was used in the attack but the gunman was seen reloading after each shot, and large shells fell to the ground after each round.
Police did not confirm that the attack targeted worshipers, but Jews around the world were marking Yom Kippur on Wednesday, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, and part of the taped-off crime scene was immediately outside the walls of a Jewish cemetery adjacent to the Halle synagogue. Ten Americans were reported to be inside the synagogue at the time of the attack, and all were safe and unharmed, U.S. ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell said on Twitter.
A witness told local television he first heard “a huge bang” before he saw someone “try to enter the Jewish cemetery.”
“He shot several times with a shotgun at the cemetery, at the door. Then a woman came, who was shot, she just happened to come from the tram stop,” the witness said.
The head of Halle’s Jewish community, Max Privorozki, told German news magazine Der Spiegel that a camera at the entrance of the synagogue showed a person trying to break into the building.
“The assailant shot several times at the door and also threw several Molotov cocktails, firecrackers or grenades to force his way in,” he said. “But the door remained closed – God protected us. The whole thing lasted perhaps five to 10 minutes.”
Privorozki said there were 70 or 80 people inside the synagogue when the shooting occurred.
A witness interviewed on n-tv television said he had been in a kebab shop when a man with a helmet and a military jacket threw something that looked like a grenade, which bounced off the doorframe. Conrad Roessler said the man then shot into the shop at least once.
“All the customers next to me ran, of course I did too — I think there were five or six of us in there,” Roessler said. “The man behind me probably died.”
“I hid in the toilet,” he said. “The others looked for the back entrance. I didn’t know if there was one. I locked myself quietly in this toilet, and wrote to my family that I love them, and waited for something to happen.”
Police then came into the shop, he said.
German federal prosecutors, who always handle cases involving suspected terrorism or national security, took over the investigation of shooting in Halle, according to German news agency dpa.
CBS News correspondent Mark Phillips said German authorities increased security measures around synagogues and Jewish cemeteries across the country after the shooting.
“Together with you, I would like to express my sympathies to the German police forces, the German people and the German Jewish community,” President of the European parliament David Sassoli told the gathered legislators in Brussels on Wednesday. “Our thoughts are with the families and friends of the victims and the citizens of Germany.”
Police said shots were also fired Wednesday in Landsberg, about 15 kilometers (nearly 10 miles) from Halle but it wasn’t clear whether the two shootings were related. Scores of police vans and a helicopter could be seen on the edge of the small town a few hours later.
The European Parliament held a moment of silence at the start of its session Wednesday to mark the unfolding situation in Halle.
As CBS News correspondent Roxana Saberi reported last year, a marked rise of extreme nationalist groups in Germany has also brought a. German police received more than 400 reports of anti-Semitic attacks in the first half of 2018 — 10 percent more than the same period the previous year.
“Shots being fired at a synagogue on Yom Kippur, the festival of reconciliation, hits us in the heart,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Twitter. “We must all act against anti-Semitism in our country.