Neo-Nazi jailed for deadly anti-Semitic attack on German synagogue

Gunman’s poor aim and unreliable firearms prevented a massacre

MAGDEBURG, GERMANY - DECEMBER 21: Defendant Stephan Balliet arrives for what is expected to be the verdict in his trial at the Magdeburg Regional Court on December 21, 2020 in Magdeburg, Germany. Balliet, 28, is accused of shooting two people dead in October 2019 after a failed attempt to storm a synagogue in the eastern city of Halle. He is charged with two murders and multiple attempted murders in a case that shook the country deeply and raised alarms about increasing right-wing extremism and anti-Jewish violence 75 years after the end of the Nazi era. (Photo by Filip Singer - Pool/Getty Images)
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Unrepentant neo-Nazi gunman Stephan Balliet was jailed for carrying out a terrorist attack on a synagogue after admitting he was motivated by anti-Semitism.

Balliet live-streamed the shooting on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year, in Halle in eastern Germany in 2019.

Presiding judge Ursula Mertens described the attack, which killed two people, as cowardly when she announced the verdict on Monday.

Prosecutors said he aimed to kill as many of the 50 worshippers inside the synagogue as possible during the 30-minute rampage.

Only his poor aim, the unreliability of his homemade firearms and a bolted door prevented a massacre, the intended victims said. Judges at the Naumburg state court, which met in the state capital of Magdeburg for security and capacity reasons, found him “seriously culpable”.

Stephan Balliet (C), who shot dead two people after an attempt to storm a synagogue in Halle an der Saale, eastern Germany, gets into a police car after his verdict was spoken on the 26th day of his trial on December 21, 2020 at the district court in Magdeburg, eastern Germany. The court handed down a life sentence to the assailant behind a deadly far-right attack that nearly became the country's worst anti-Semitic atrocity since World War II. After failing to storm the Halle synagogue on October 9, 2019, the attacker, Stephan Balliet, 28, shot dead a female passer-by and a man at a kebab shop. / AFP / POOL / Hendrik Schmidt

Balliet, 28, posted an online screed against Jews before trying to shoot his way into the synagogue on October 9 last year.

During his five-month trial, Balliet denied the Holocaust in open court – a crime in Germany – and expressed no remorse to those he targeted. He was convicted of two counts of murder and several counts of attempted murder in a case that shocked the country and fuelled fears of rising right-wing extremism.

Josef Schuster, head of Germany's Central Council of Jews, welcomed the sentence. "This is an important day for Germany. The verdict makes clear that there will be no tolerance for homicidal hatred of Jews," he said.

Government spokesman Ulrike Demmer said the Halle attack "showed us how important it is to even more decisively continue the fight against anti-Semitism, xenophobia and hostility to democracy".

Prosecutor Kai Lohse said during the trial that 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".

Far-right extremists are the biggest threat to Germany, the head of the country’s domestic intelligence agency, Thomas Haldenwang, said in July

An elite unit in Germany’s Special Commando Forces was formally disbanded this year after some of its members were found to hold extreme far-right views.