A far-right gunman charged with 13 crimes, including murder and attempted murder after he failed to storm a synagogue in Halle, Germany last October, has told the judge Muslim migration drove him to violence.
Anti-Semite Stephan Balliet, 28, did not deny the crime as his trial opened, telling the court he decided to turn to violence in 2015 when Germany opened its doors to more than a million migrants, primarily from Muslim countries.
Asked by the presiding judge how that prompted him to attack Jews four years later, he told the court: ‘Jews are the main cause of white genocide, and want to establish a new world order,’ NTV news reported.
He is accused of shooting dead Jana Lange, 40, who witnessed him struggling to get into the synagogue, and 20-year-old football fan Kevin S, who had been working at a building site nearby.
He is also alleged to have repeatedly tried, but failed, to force his way into the synagogue with 52 worshippers inside.
He apologised to the court for killing the woman passing by, saying it had been an automatic reaction when he saw her.
‘I didn’t want to kill whites,’ he said, according to NTV.
Shortly before 12pm on Tuesday a handcuffed and shackled Balliet was led into the courtroom in Landgericht, Magdeburg, Germany.
The suspect, who live-streamed the rampage on October 19, 2019, was armed with eight firearms, several explosive devices, a helmet and a protective vest, according to the indictment.
Prosecutors have said the weapons were apparently homemade.
He told presiding judge Ursula Mertens the refugee crisis was a turning point: ‘After 2015, I decided to stop doing anything for this society that would replace me with Muslims and N**roes,’ according to BILD.
Judge Mertens told him she would ‘not tolerate any abuse of people here in the room’ and she had to power to exclude him from the trial.
Asked why he had killed Ms Lange, Balliet said: ‘Short circuit reaction. If I hadn’t done it, they would all have laughed at me. All it takes to stop a right is a stupid comment.’
Ms Lange snapped at Balliet after he fired shots into the synagogue – where 52 worshippers were hiding in fear.
Balliet said he was inspired to carry out an attack after the shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand on March 15, 2019, when 51 people were killed in two mosques.
When asked if he was lonely, Balliet replied: ‘Yes.’
Balliet’s father, who was not named, previously told Bild his son was an angry young man who ‘was not at peace with himself or with the world, and always blamed everyone else’ for his problems.
Balliet posted a manifesto online a week before the attack where he specifically talked about attacking the synagogue in Halle while outlining his plan to kill ‘anti-whites’, including Jews.
During the attack Balliet ‘wanted to create a worldwide effect’ and encourage others to imitate him, Germany’s chief prosecutor Peter Frank said at the time.
Around 50 terrified worshippers – including 10 Americans – were trapped inside the synagogue during the attack, which they watched unfold on security cameras that broadcast to TV screens inside the prayer house.
Roman R, 31, told local media that he was in the middle of Yom Kippur prayers when he heard a bang and went into the corridor to see smoke coming into the building.
The majority of those inside – including the elderly and children – went to find shelter while Roman and five other men barricaded the door to the prayer room, called police, and then prepared themselves to fight back.
He described watching as Balliet shot at the wooden doors, believing they would give way any moment and that he would come inside and attack them.
Fortunately the doors held, explosives that Balliet placed at the doors did not go off, and flammable liquid he sprayed at the building failed to light.
After failing to get into the synagogue, Roman watched as Balliet left to continue his attack elsewhere.
He remained trapped inside the building for hours afterwards before finally being freed once police officers had disarmed the explosives.
Afterwards worshippers were pictured hugging and laughing as they were led away.
Balliet was not a known extremist, Bild reported, and appeared to have self-radicalised while living alone with his mother in Heldbra, a village around 25 miles from Halle, and spending lots of his time online.
He was born in Eisleben, another village close to Heldbra and lived with both of his parents until they divorced when he was 14 years old.
After that he went to live with his mother in Heldbra, which is where he was staying at the time of the attack, although he routinely saw his father who lives in Benndorf – about a five-minute drive away.
His father said he last saw his son around 24 hours before the attack, when he was confrontational.
‘There was always a fight, my opinion did not count,’ he said. ‘I couldn’t reach him any more.’
While the man didn’t reveal details of his final conversations with Balliet, when asked whether he thought about his son after reports spread of an attack on a synagogue, he stayed silent and began weeping.
Records seen by Bilt reveal that Balliet graduated from high school and went on to study chemistry for two semesters at a higher education institution, but had to abandon his studies after a serious stomach operation.
It is not clear exactly what he did for work after quitting his studies, though a neighbour said he was working as a broadcasting technician at the time of the attack.
Video taken of Balliet during the rampage suggested he was familiar with combat tactics, even if he had no formal training, as he can be seen taking shelter while firing his weapons and moving around as a solider might.
In footage that he streamed online, Balliet also claimed he built his weapons himself, suggesting a familiarity with mechanical engineering, though he can also be heard lamenting the fact that his guns keep jamming.
In a manifesto posted online as a PDF document, the author included pictures of the weapons and ammunition used in the attack, according to extremism monitoring service SITE.
The manifesto also mentioned a live-stream as well as his objective to kill ‘anti-whites’, including Jews.
‘This manifesto document, which appears to have been created a week ago on October 1, gives yet more indication how much planning and preparation’ the gunman put into the attack, Rita Katz, director of SITE, said.
German newspaper Die Welt reported that the text, which is about 10 pages long and written in English, specifically mentions the plan to attack the synagogue in Halle during the religious celebration of Yom Kippur.
The rampage was streamed live for 35 minutes on Twitch, and eventually seen by some 2,200 people, the online platform said.
Police subsequently captured a suspect after a gun battle that left the man injured.
It is thought Balliet tried and failed to get into the Halle synagogue where around 80 people were praying, before shooting through the doors, throwing explosives, and then laying bombs outside.
He then gunned down Ms Lange in the street before driving around the corner to a kebab shop where he again opened fire, killing a man and wounding several others.
Video taken outside the shop shows a man wearing tactical gear and a helmet with a camera strapped to it climbing out of a car and firing several shots into the street with what appears to be an improvised shotgun.
He then walks up and down the road in full view of security cameras before fleeing in the direction of Wiedersdorf.
While there he shot an electrician in a workshop, then stole a taxi and made his way to the A9 motorway, skirting around the city of Leipzig, before turning on to the B91 towards Zeitz.
It was there that he was confronted by police and arrested after a brief gun battle, Bild reports.
‘We’ve made it out with our lives, in health and amazing spirits,’ wrote Rebecca Blady, a Jewish American community leader, who was in the synagogue.
The owner of the kebab shop, Rifat Tekin, meanwhile described the gunman as ‘calm like a professional’.
‘Maybe he has done this many times. Like me making a kebab, he’s doing this – like a professional.’
Konrad Rösler, a 28-year-old railway worker interviewed on German TV, said that he was in the kebab shop when he saw a man with a helmet and military jacket launch the attack.
Rösler said the attacker threw a grenade at the shop, which bounced off the door frame, before he fired shots into the shop. He said he locked himself in the toilet and heard several more loud bangs before police arrived.
‘All the customers next to me ran, of course I did too. I think there were five or six of us in there,’ Mr Roessler said. ‘The man behind me probably died.’
‘I hid in the toilet,’ he said. ‘The others looked for the back entrance. I didn’t know if there was one. I locked myself quietly in this toilet, and wrote to my family that I love them, and waited for something to happen.’
Some 18 trial days are scheduled until mid-October. His trial continues.