At least two people were shot dead in the German city of Halle on Wednesday, with witnesses saying a synagogue was among the gunmen’s targets as Jews marked the holy day of Yom Kippur.
One suspect was captured but with a manhunt ongoing for other perpetrators, security was 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.
Jewish community leader Max Privorotzki, who was in the Halle synagogue, told Stuttgarter Zeitung that “we saw through the camera of our synagogue that a heavily armed perpetrator wearing a steel helmet and rifle was trying to shoot open our door.” “The man looked like he was from the special forces. But our doors held firm,” he said, adding that there was also an attempt to shoot open the gate to the neighbouring Jewish cemetery.
“We barricaded our doors from inside and waited for the police,” he said, adding that “in between, we carried on with our service.” Between 70 and 80 people were in the synagogue on a day when Jews around the world were marking one of the holiest days in the Jewish calendar, Privorotzki said.
Two people also suffered serious bullet wounds in the attack and were being operated on, a spokesman for the city’s hospital said.
Germany has been on high alert following several attacks in recent years, including some claimed by the Islamic State group, as well as neo-Nazi plots.
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 one of the two shot dead were killed in front of the synagogue, while a hand grenade was also flung into a Jewish cemetery.
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.