German-Iranian charged over Tehran-directed plans to burn down synagogue

Handler told suspect Babak J. to commit arson attack on temple; he then tried to set fire to adjoining school, also tried to recruit acquaintance

Police secure a synagogue in Essen, Germany, October 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
Illustrative: Police secure the old synagogue in Essen, Germany, October 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

BERLIN — German prosecutors on Thursday charged a German-Iranian dual national for an attempted arson attack near a synagogue on the orders of the government in Tehran.

Babak J. was instructed by an intermediary “acting on behalf of unknown Iranian state agencies” in November 2022 to carry out an arson attack on a synagogue in the region of North Rhine-Westphalia, the federal prosecutor’s office said in a statement.

Subsequently, the accused is said to have sought to convince an acquaintance to set fire to a synagogue in Dortmund using a Molotov cocktail but was refused.

Babak J.’s handler later named another synagogue — in the city of Bochum rather than in Dortmund — as a target, prosecutors said.

“The accused refrained from attacking the well-monitored synagogue in Bochum itself for fear of discovery,” they said.

Instead, the suspect tried to set fire to a school building adjoining the synagogue in the western German city, according to prosecutors.

Illustrative: Men wearing kippas are seen at the synagogue in Halle, eastern Germany, on October 10, 2019, one day after the antisemitic attack where two people were shot dead. (Ronny Hartmann/AFP)

Germany has seen a series of incidents of antisemitic violence in recent years, bringing back memories of the country’s murderous Nazi past.

In one of the most shocking recent incidents, a gunman killed two people in the eastern city of Halle in 2019, having failed to storm a synagogue on Yom Kippur.

Before the attack, he had posted a racist, misogynistic, and antisemitic manifesto online.

Germany this month reported a new record in the number of politically motivated crimes last year — although the number of antisemitic crimes declined by almost 13 percent to 2,641 incidents.

The vast majority of the offenses — 84% — were attributed to the far-right scene.

The decline was however “no reason to give the all clear,” the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

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