Announcing verdict, judge says attack was 'cowardly'

Life sentence for Halle synagogue shooter who killed 2 in Yom Kippur rampage

Judges bar Stephan Balliet from early release; he has denied the Holocaust and expressed no remorse for failed 2019 storming of German house of worship

Stephan Balliet (C), who shot dead two people after an attempt to storm a synagogue in Halle an der Saale, eastern Germany, wears a face mask as he arrives for the start of the 26th day of the trial on December 21, 2020, at the district court in Magdeburg, eastern Germany (Ronny Hartmann/ AFP)
Stephan Balliet (C), who shot dead two people after an attempt to storm a synagogue in Halle an der Saale, eastern Germany, wears a face mask as he arrives for the start of the 26th day of the trial on December 21, 2020, at the district court in Magdeburg, eastern Germany (Ronny Hartmann/ AFP)

MAGDEBURG, Germany — A German court handed down a life sentence on Monday to the terrorist behind a deadly far-right attack last year that nearly became the country’s worst anti-Semitic atrocity since World War II.

News agency dpa reported that judges at the court in Magdeburg found him “seriously culpable,” meaning that he will be effectively barred from early release after 15 years.

Presiding Judge Ursula Mertens described it as a “cowardly attack” as she announced the verdict. Balliet showed no reaction but took notes.

A bolted door at the synagogue in the eastern city of Halle with 52 worshippers inside marking Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year, was the only thing that prevented the heavily armed assailant from carrying out a planned bloodbath.

Wreaths and candles are seen in front of a Doner kebab shop in Halle, Germany, on October 9, 2020, on the first anniversary of the anti-Semitic attack on the synagogue. (Ronny Hartmann/AFP)

After failing to storm the temple on October 9, 2019, the attacker, Stephan Balliet, 28, shot dead a female passerby and a man at a kebab shop.

He was charged with two counts of murder and multiple counts of attempted murder in a case that deeply rattled the country and fueled fears about rising right-wing extremism and anti-Jewish violence, 75 years after the end of the Nazi era.

During his five-month trial, Balliet denied the Holocaust in open court — a crime in Germany — and expressed no remorse to those targeted, many of whom are co-plaintiffs in the case.

“The attack on the synagogue in Halle was one of the most repulsive anti-Semitic acts since World War II,” prosecutor Kai Lohse told the court.

‘They are my enemies’

Lohse said Balliet had acted on the basis of a “racist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic ideology” to carry out an attack against not only those he killed but “Jewish life in Germany as a whole.”

The events that unfolded were like a “nightmare,” he added.

“At the end of this nightmare, the perpetrator murdered two people and injured and traumatized numerous others.”

During the trial, Balliet insisted that “attacking the synagogue was not a mistake; they are my enemies.”

An armed man fires on a street in Halle, Germany, following a shooting outside a synagogue in that city which killed two. (Screenshot/Andreas Splett/ATV-Studio Halle/AFP)

Dressed in military garb, he filmed the attack and broadcast it on the internet, prefacing it with a manifesto espousing his misogynist, neo-fascist ideology.

The attack bore some of the hallmarks of two carried out and similarly live-streamed some months earlier in Christchurch, New Zealand by Brenton Tarrant, who killed 51 people. Balliet cited Tarrant as an inspiration.

Israel’s ambassador to Germany, Jeremy Issacharoff, called the attack “a very, very alarming moment in German history.”

“If that guy would have been able to get into a synagogue… it would have had a tremendous impact on German identity after the war and the fight against anti-Semitism,” he told AFP in an interview prior to the verdict.

‘Without emotion’

The government’s point man against anti-Semitism, Felix Klein, called the trial “a good opportunity to bring about debate in society about anti-Semitism.”

Crimes targeting Jews and their belief have risen steadily in Germany in recent years, with 2,032 offenses recorded in 2019, up 13 percent on the previous year.

In this June 13, 2019 file photo a picture of Walter Luebcke stands behind his coffin during the funeral service in Kassel, Germany. (Swen Pfoertner/dpa via AP)

Meanwhile, a string of far-right terrorist attacks have shocked Germany, including the assassination of pro-refugee politician Walter Luebcke at his home in June 2019 and the murder in the western city of Hanau of nine people of migrant origin in February.

Baillet “described the fatal shots fired at his two victims in Halle without emotion” and appeared disappointed that he had failed in his attempt to enter the synagogue, psychiatrist Norbert Leygraf said of the defendant in an evaluation.

He said Balliet suffered from symptoms of schizophrenia, paranoia and autism preventing him from having “empathy with others” while feeling “superior to others.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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