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December 21, 2020 12:14 pm
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Neo-Nazi Gunman Who Attacked German Synagogue on Yom Kippur Sentenced to Life in Jail

avatar by Ben Cohen

Neo-Nazi gunman Stephan Balliet is seen in court. Photo: Reuters / Hendrik Schmidt.

The unrepentant neo-Nazi gunman who murdered two people during an attempted massacre at a synagogue in the central German city of Halle was sentenced to life imprisonment on Monday, following a harrowing four-month trial.

Stephan Balliet, 28, was convicted by the regional high court in Naumberg, Germany, for the attack on the synagogue in Halle on Oct, 9, 2019. As more than 50 worshipers were inside the sanctuary for services marking Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, a heavily-armed Balliet tried repeatedly but failed to smash through the synagogue’s security doors. He then shot dead a 40-year-old female passerby before driving to a nearby kebab restaurant, where he murdered a 20-year-old male customer on the assumption that the victim was a Muslim.

Condemning Balliet’s “cowardly attack,” presiding judge Ursula Mertens handed him a life sentence as well as preventive detention and an acknowledgment of the gravity of the crime — in effect, ruling out an early release after 15 years in prison.

As German police officers prepared to escort Balliet from the courtroom after Monday’s verdict, he grabbed a cardboard folder filled with trial documents and hurled it in the direction of prosecution lawyers.

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Throughout the proceedings, Balliet never once showed any remorse for the outrage, described by federal prosecutor Kai Lohse as an attack “on Jewish life in Germany as a whole” that was fueled by the gunman’s “racist, xenophobic and antisemitic ideology.”

When the trial began on July 21, Balliet wore a “big grin” as prosecution lawyers replayed the same video that the neo-Nazi had livestreamed during the attack.

In testimony, he advanced the conspiracy theory that “Jews were the organizers” of the massive influx of Syrian refugees into Germany in 2015.

Asked why he had chosen to attack a synagogue rather than a mosque, he replied: “There is a difference between fighting the symptoms and fighting the cause.”

On another occasion, he emphasized that the attack on the Halle synagogue was “not a mistake, these are my enemies.”

The Central Council of Jews in Germany called the verdict as a welcome signal in the fight against resurgent antisemitism.

“Today is an important day for Germany, because this verdict makes it clear that there is zero tolerance for the murderous hatred of Jews,” Josef Schuster — president of the council — told reporters.

Felix Klein — the German federal government’s antisemitism czar — said meanwhile that Balliet’s conviction “gives us comfort, but we cannot rest.”

While Balliet had acted alone, “he moved in an echo chamber where he found inspiration and confirmation, especially online, and was apparently able to radicalize himself further and further,” Klein noted.

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