BERLIN (AP) — Several shots were fired Wednesday in the eastern German city of Halle, leaving two people dead as the suspected assailants fled, police said. One person was killed near a synagogue on the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur and a witness reported that a nearby kebab shop also was attacked.
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.
A Jewish leader said one assailant had tried to force his way into the synagogue Wednesday on Yom Kippur, when synagogues are busy, but did not get in.
Officers were out in force across Halle, a city of 240,000, hunting down more suspects and urging residents to stay at home or indoors. The city’s train station was closed down as a precaution.
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. News agency dpa reported the body was lying opposite a synagogue, about 30 meters (yards) away.
The head of Halle’s Jewish community, Max Privorotzki, told the 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.”
Privorotzki 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.
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.
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.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, lamented what he called “terrible news from Halle” but government officials said they had no information on the attack.
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.