At least two people were shot dead on a street in the German city of Halle on Wednesday, police said, with witnesses saying that the gunmen tried to enter a synagogue as dozens of Jews marked Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year.
A woman was killed near the synagogue, and a man was killed in a Turkish kebab shop, Halle police spokesperson told the BBC.
Several people were injured in the attack, with two people hospitalized in serious condition.
“We have two seriously injured people with gun wounds,” Jens Mueller, spokesman for the Halle university clinic, told AFP. “They are in surgery.”
Max Privorotzki, who heads the Jewish community in Halle, told Spiegel Online that the perpetrators had apparently sought to enter the synagogue in the Paulus district but security measures in place helped to “withstand the attack.”
He added that between 70 and 80 people were in the synagogue at the time.
One suspect was captured but with a manhunt ongoing for other perpetrators, security has been tightened in synagogues in other eastern German cities while Halle itself was in lockdown.
“Early indications show that two people were killed in Halle. Several shots were fired,” police said on Twitter, urging residents in the area to stay indoors.
Police said the “perpetrators fled in a car,” adding later that one suspect had been caught.
The two further suspects fled in a hijacked a car, officials said, according to the Reuters news agency.
Police said shots were also fired in Landsberg, about 15 kilometers (nearly 10 miles) from Halle. It wasn’t clear whether the two shootings on Wednesday were related.
‘Hid in the toilet’
Anti-terrorist prosecutors confirmed that they were taking over the probe given “the particular importance of the case” which he said involved “violent acts that affect the domestic security of the Federal Republic of Germany.”
Bild daily reported that the shooting took place in front of the synagogue, and a hand grenade was also flung into a Jewish cemetery.
— Amichai Stein (@AmichaiStein1) October 9, 2019
Witness Conrad Roessler told news channel NTV he was in a Turkish restaurant about 600 metres (yards) away from the synagogue when “a man wearing a helmet and military uniform” tossed a hand grenade.
“The grenade hit the door and exploded,” he said.
“[The attacker] shot at least once in the shop; the man behind me must be dead. I hid in the toilet and locked the door.”
Police would not confirm the details, saying only that there were also kebab restaurants and churches in the area where the shooting took place.
An unauthenticated video circulating in German media showed a man wearing a helmet getting out of a vehicle before firing several shots in the air.
“It is terrible news from Halle and I hope very much that the police will manage to catch the perpetrator or perpetrators as quickly as possible so that no other person will be in danger,” Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert told a news conference.
Wednesday’s shootings came three months after the shocking assassination-style murder of local pro-migrant politician Walter Luebcke in the western city of Kassel, allegedly by a known neo-Nazi.
Luebcke’s killing has deeply shaken Germany, raising questions about whether it has failed to take seriously a rising threat from right-wing extremists.
Investigators have been probing the extent of suspect Stephan Ernst’s neo-Nazi ties and whether he had links to the far-right militant cell National Socialist Underground (NSU).
Interior Minister Horst Seehofer last month warned of the rising danger of the militant far right, calling it “as big a threat as radical Islamism.”
Seehofer said that police had uncovered 1,091 weapons including firearms and explosives during probes of crimes linked to the far right last year, far more than in 2017 when 676 were found.
Germany has also been on high alert following several jihadist attacks in recent years claimed by the Islamic State group.
The attack appears to be the latest in a wave of racially and religiously motivated crimes against Jews to rock Germany in recent years. Germany’s domestic intelligence agency reported last month that the number of anti-Semitic acts of violence rose sharply last year alongside a further increase in those identified as far-right extremists.
The BfV agency said in its annual report that incidents of anti-Semitic violence increased by 71.4 percent in 2018 to 48, from 28 the previous year.