(Bloomberg) -- A heavily armed man attempted to storm a synagogue in eastern Germany on the Yom Kippur holiday and killed two people in a suspected anti-Semitic attack that authorities blamed on the far right.
The assailant, identified by Der Spiegel as a 27-year-old German man, failed to enter the synagogue in the city of Halle, filled with about 80 worshipers on the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. He gunned down a woman nearby and a man during a subsequent attack on a Turkish restaurant, German media reported.
“We have to assume that this was at the least an anti-Semitic attack,” Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said in a statement. “In the assessment of the Federal Prosecutor, there is sufficient evidence for a possible right-wing extremist background.”
The attack on Wednesday coincides with growing political polarization in Germany. Anti-Semitic crimes, including vandalism of tombstones and synagogues, have been rising and while many are perpetrated by neo-Nazis, people of Arabic or Turkish background are blamed for an increasing number of assaults.
Hundreds of people late on Wednesday joined spontaneous acts of solidarity with the victims and against anti-Semitism in Halle and Berlin, including Chancellor Angela Merkel who attended a vigil at a synagogue in the nation’s capital.
“The attack in Halle on Yom Kippur, the most important Jewish holiday, leaves us all with immense pain and with fear,” Josef Schuster, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said on the group’s website. “We are devastated.”
In June, the murder of a local politician in Merkel’s Christian Democratic party rocked the country’s political establishment.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said he was “appalled and shocked” by the Halle violence and “tired of being appalled and shocked again and again.”
“When will this stop?” he said in a statement. “Why is this happening in our country?”
Video footage went viral showing a man dressed in full combat gear, including fatigues and helmet, firing repeatedly from what appeared to be a shotgun or pump-action shotgun. The attack was live-streamed on Twitch, CNBC reported.
In the video, the suspected attacker spoke English with a German accent, described himself as a Holocaust denier and blamed Jews for mass migration and low birth rates, German public broadcaster ARD reported on its website.
Police said earlier they took a suspect in custody but were in pursuit of suspected accomplices as far away as Leipzig, 27 miles (45 kilometers) to the east, where a dragnet was set up.
(Updates with Merkel vigil in fifth paragraph.)
--With assistance from Alexander Michael Pearson.
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