Germany

Synagogue Attack Sparks Concern About Far-Right Extremism in Germany

BERLIN—Authorities suspect Wednesday’s attack on a synagogue in an east German city was fueled by far-right extremism, a threat German authorities have been warning about for months.

Germany’s domestic intelligence service said in its annual report in June that the arrival of nearly two million asylum seekers since 2015, in particular, had emboldened far-right extremists motivated by racism, anti-Semitism, revisionist theories and anti-democratic values.

A shooter opened fire near a synagogue in Germany, killing two people. The attack happened on the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. Video/Photo: Andreas Splett via Storyful

While crimes classified as far-right in nature dropped slightly last year, violent crime rose, according to the report. Violent anti-Semitic acts, in particular, grew 71.4%.

Violent street clashes in the eastern German cities of Chemnitz and Köthen in August and September last year in reaction to alleged attacks on residents by migrants had shown far-right agitators could mobilize increasingly large groups, the agency said. Both cities are near Halle, where the attack occurred Wednesday.

“Many posts on social media contain diffuse or explicit encouragements to ‘fight back’,” the agency wrote. “Such cycles of radicalization can lead all the way to the formation of terrorist groups.”

Authorities on Wednesday said they were assuming the suspect in the Halle attack was motivated by far-right beliefs. In a video streamed online, the suspect, a 27-year-old local named

Stephan Balliet,

can be heard complaining about Jews and using expletives to describe foreigners.

If the motive is confirmed, the shootings Wednesday could be one of the worst assaults by a far-right radical since a neo-Nazi group calling itself the National Socialist Underground killed 10 people in a series of attacks between 2000 and 2007.

Security officials see far-right extremists as a galaxy of overlapping and in some cases barely connected groups, ranging from supporters of far-right parties such as the NPD and the Third Way, to soccer hooligans, clandestine neo-Nazi groups and so-called Reichsbürger, or “citizens of the empire”.

The latter have grown from an oddity—a small group of people who reject the authority of the government, print their own identity papers, and refuse to pay taxes—into a serious concern.

In August 2016, a member of the movement was injured while trading fire with police who had come to evict him from his house in a village near Leipzig. In its report, the intelligence agency said Reichsbürger presented an increasing threat though one at the margins of traditional right-wing extremism.

While crimes classified as far-right in nature dropped slightly last year, violent crime rose, according to the report. Violent anti-Semitic acts, in particular, grew 71.4%.

This year, a suspected neo-Nazi terror cell went on trial for planning a terrorist attack in the capital. A liberal politician was shot dead by a suspected far-right militant in March, and a bomb targeted the house of another politician in July. That month, an Eritrean immigrant was gunned down on the street by a self-declared xenophobe.

Write to Bertrand Benoit at bertrand.benoit@wsj.com

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