German police probing 'attempted murder' of Jewish student

Berlin (AFP) –


German investigators said Monday they were probing an attack on a Jewish student outside a synagogue in Hamburg as attempted murder with anti-Semitic intent, a case that has sparked widespread condemnation.

The 26-year-old student was badly injured on Sunday by a man who repeatedly struck him on the head with a shovel outside the synagogue where the Jewish community was celebrating Sukkot, also known as the Feast of the Tabernacles.

The assault came a year after two people were shot dead by an extremist who tried and failed to storm a synagogue in the eastern city of Halle.

Jewish leaders and top politicians led condemnation of the latest attack, with Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht calling it a "disgrace" for Germany.

The suspect, 29, was arrested by police officers who were assigned to protect the synagogue.

Dressed in combat fatigues, he had a piece of paper with a hand-drawn swastika in his pocket, said police and prosecutors in a statement.

"The current assessment of the situation suggests that this is an anti-Semitic motivated attack," they said, adding that investigators are treating the case as "attempted murder with grievous bodily harm".

- 'Intolerance' -

"Once again, we have to witness a terrible act of violence against a Jewish citizen," said Lambrecht.

"The hatred against Jews is a disgrace for our country," she said, stressing that Germany has to stand up more firmly against victims of hate and violence.

Ronald Lauder, leader of the World Jewish Congress, also demanded action.

The attacker "must be held responsible as must all who engage in any expressions of hate or intolerance," he said.

Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said: "No one in the country should be blase about a situation where Jews here are repeatedly the target of hate."

He added that the case shows that security measures may have to be improved.

Last year's attack on the synagogue in Halle came on October 9 during Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. A neo-Nazi suspect is currently on trial for the crime.

Stephan Balliet, 28, who stands accused over the Halle attack had told the court his assault on the synagogue was "not a mistake".

Only last month, Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke of her shame over rising anti-Semitism in Germany, even as the Jewish community warned that coronavirus conspiracy theories were being used to stir up anti-Jewish hatred.

Anti-Semitic crimes have increased steadily in Germany in recent years with 2,032 offences recorded in 2019, up 13 percent on the previous year.

The uptick in hate against the Jewish community has sparked a round of soul-searching in Germany, which has in the last decades placed a huge emphasis on atoning for the murder of six million European Jews by Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime during World War II.

But the arrival in parliament of the far-right AfD, whose leaders openly question Germany's culture of atonement over World War II atrocities, has also contributed to the change in atmosphere.

The arrival of more than a million asylum seekers, many from Muslim countries such as Syria, Afghanistan or Iraq have also partly played a role in growing hostility against Jews.

In an assault that sparked revulsion in Germany, a Syrian migrant was charged for lashing out with his belt in April 2018 at an Israeli man wearing a Jewish kippa skullcap.

Germany is now home to the third-largest Jewish population in western Europe, largely due to an influx of around 200,000 Jews following the collapse of the Soviet Union.