HALLE, Germany (AP) — 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.
Police said in a tweet that the suspects fled in a car, and soon after reported that one person had been arrested. They gave no information about that person, or the suspected target or targets, or why they thought the attack may have been carried out by multiple assailants.
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.
Federal prosecutors, who in Germany handle cases involving suspected terrorism or national security, took over the investigation.
A video clip broadcast by regional public broadcaster MDR showed a man in a helmet and an olive-colored top getting out of a car and firing four shots from behind the vehicle from a long-barreled gun. It wasn’t clear what he was shooting at.
Pictures from the scene showed a body lying in the street behind a police cordon. The body was lying opposite a synagogue, about 30 meters (yards) away from the building, dpa reported.
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. Dpa quoted unidentified security sources as saying that an assailant laid home-made explosives outside.
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.
Synagogues are often protected by police in Germany. Police in two other cities in eastern Germany, Dresden and Leipzig, stepped up security at synagogues there after the shooting in Halle.
“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.”
“All our country’s citizens of Jewish faith can be sure that we are with them with our whole heart and we will give them all the security that is possible,” Vice Chancellor Olaf Scholz said.
The U.S. Embassy in Berlin issued a statement that said, “today’s attack is an attack on all of us, and the perpetrators must be held accountable.”
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.
Moulson reported from Berlin.
An earlier version of this story was updated to correct the spelling of the Jewish community leader’s surname to Privorozki, not Privorotzki.