Germany: Man who attacked synagogue convicted of murder

Stephan Balliet broadcasted attack in city of Halle live on a popular gaming site

Stephan Balliet will effectively barred from early release after 15 years, which is typical for people in Germany given life sentences. Photograph: Getty Images

Stephan Balliet will effectively barred from early release after 15 years, which is typical for people in Germany given life sentences. Photograph: Getty Images

 

German Jewish groups have welcomed the life sentence awarded to a man who killed two people last year following a failed attempt to storm a synagogue in the eastern German city of Halle.

Stephan Balliet (28), who admitted carrying out post-war Germany’s worst anti-Semitic attack, was found guilty of murder on two counts and attempted murder in 62 cases arising from his attack on the solemn Jewish feast day of Yom Kippur.

The heavily-armed gunman streamed his attack on the synagogue online and, in addition, was found guilty of extortionate blackmail, grievous bodily harm, hazardous driving and incitement.

After he serves his sentence, Balliet was ordered by the court to be transferred to an open-ended period of preventative custody, reviewable every two years.

Presiding judge Ursula Mertens condemned the killings and attempted murders as “cowardly” and “cruel”, based on “crude conspiracy theories” that were “absurd . . . and not conceivable to logical thought”.

She accused Balliet of attempting to relativise his guilt and motives and of spreading neo-Nazi and anti-Semitic propaganda.

The two clashed regularly during the trial, with Judge Mertens ordering him to stop smirking and giggling during witness testimony.

Gun jammed

On October 9th, 2019, Balliet attempted to shoot his way into the Halle synagogue, where 51 people were gathered to pray. Dressed in military fatigues and muttering aloud when his home-made gun jammed, he began cursing and throwing bombs and explosives at the synagogue’s reinforced door. Minutes later, after failing to gain entry, he shot dead a 40-year-old woman passerby and a 20-year-old man in a nearby kebab kiosk.

He then fled the scene in a car, shot at police and ran someone down in a nearby village. When a couple refused to give him their vehicle, he shot them, before finally stealing a taxi as a second getaway car. The car’s tracking device led the police to him.

Described by his mother as an angry loner who locked himself in his childhood bedroom, Balliet said he had decided to arm himself and fight back against a coming “invasion” of Arabs and Jews. In his testimony, the gunman insisted that “attacking the synagogue was not a mistake, they are my enemies”.

Members of Halle’s Jewish community said during the trial that, just as Baillet’s attempts to kill them failed, so too his attempts to traumatise them now.

“We have no fear, we stand together,” said Rabbi Jeremy Borovitz, who was in the synagogue during the attack.

The verdict was welcomed by the Committee of Jews in Germany. They called it an important signal against anti-Semitism from a justice system in Germany that often demonstrates a “short-sightedness” to far-right extremism.

The case attracted international attention and the verdict was welcomed by Jewish groups worldwide. World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder said the “speed, consequence and decisiveness of the trial” – 14 months after the attack – “are an example of how one must deal with extremism”.