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July 20, 2020 2:24 pm

Neo-Nazi Killer Who Attacked German Synagogue on Yom Kippur Facing Life Sentence as Trial Begins

avatar by Ben Cohen

Police officers are seen at the site of a shooting, in which two people were killed, near a synagogue in Halle, Germany, Oct. 9, 2019. Photo: Reuters / Hannibal Hanschke.

The trial of the neo-Nazi gunman who murdered two people during an attack on a synagogue in the central German city of Halle last year is set to begin this week with unprecedented security measures in the courtroom.

28-year-old Stephan Balliet will appear at the Higher Regional Court in the town of Naumburg on Tuesday charged with two counts of murder and 68 counts of attempted murder.

On Oct. 9, 2019, the day of Yom Kippur, Balliet drove to the synagogue on Halle’s Humboldtstrasse just before noon, as more than 50 worshipers inside the sanctuary held religious services. Balliet was equipped with eight firearms, several explosive devices, a helmet and a protective vest for the attack.

After failing to break through the synagogue’s locked entrance despite exploding a grenade, a frustrated Balliet shot dead a 40-year-old female passerby. After additional violent attempts to force his way inside the building were similarly unsuccessful, Balliet left the synagogue in his car.

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He then drove to his next target — a small kebab restaurant where four diners and an employee were present. Balliet shot dead a 20-year-old man at the restaurant, believing him to be a Muslim.

Balliet was apprehended by police about an hour later, after he crashed his vehicle in a panicked attempt to flee the city.

Regarded by the authorities as “highly dangerous,” Balliet will be brought into the courtroom chained with both hand and ankle-cuffs. Earlier this year, he attempted to escape from the detention facility where he was being held — jumping over an 11-foot-tall fence before being captured by guards about five minutes later.

Prosecutors said they expected the trial to shed light on the wider neo-Nazi networks that Balliet enthusiastically identified with.

“For the survivors, it’s about finding out how this act came about,” Mark Lupschitz, a lawyer for nine of the victims targeted by Balliet, told the news outlet Welt. “It is important to them that supporters of the attack are uncovered.”

Running to 123 pages, the indictment against Balliet argues that his goal was to inspire copycat attacks against other Jewish and minority targets. He later told police that he blamed “the Jews” for the fact that he was unemployed and still living at home with his mother.

“They are pushing me out of my own life,” Balliet reportedly complained to investigators.

If convicted, Balliet will likely receive a life sentence.

The presiding judge in his trial, Ursula Mertens, has more than 20 years of experience of high-profile cases.

In 2017, she sentenced prominent far-right activist Peter Fitzek — who styled himself as the “king of Germany” — to four years in prison for defrauding donors to his political movement.

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