The October attack on a synagogue in Halle (Germany) follows the Poway (California) synagogue attack in April and the Christchurch (New Zealand) mosque attack in March. These attacks and their outcomes provide us with valuable insights into the modus operandi of assailants who are targeting places of worship, and the level to which each attack was mitigated by:
- Protection measures in place
- Vigilance of the targets
- Response of the people in the building
- Reaction of passersby and the authorities
This briefing serves to analyze this attack in the context of the ongoing threat against Places of Worship around the world and to learn lessons that will help mitigate future attacks.
HALLE, GERMANY ATTACK
On Wednesday October 9, shortly after noon on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, a 27-year-old German citizen named Stephan Balliet, armed with homemade weapons and grenades, tried to blow open the front door to the synagogue with the intent to massacre everyone inside. At the time of the attack there were around 50 people in the building.
At 12.03 p.m. a 112-distress call reached the Halle fire-emergency HQ and one minute later the police were informed. However, it took until 2.40 p.m. for the federal police quick responders BFE+ to arrive.
Frustrated at not being able to gain entrance to the synagogue where the door had been hardened against such attacks, Balliet went on a rampage in the area, shooting and killing a female passer-by who apparently reprimanded the attacker for making noise. A man who stopped his vehicle to check on this woman was able to get away unharmed when the shooter’s weapon failed to fire. Balliet then drove to a nearby kebab shop and opened fire through the front window with a shotgun. A customer in the shop was injured, and later killed when the attacker re-entered the shop.
Authorities activated the Public Alert System Katwarn, and advised the local community to stay at home, also closing the city’s train station. The suspect fled in a rented vehicle and led the police on an 80-kilometre chase until he was captured at 4.00p.m by the federal police in Wiedersdorf.
- The synagogue door had been upgraded and a CCTV system installed enabling the people inside to see the attack in progress and take steps to secure the premises and inform the authorities. The upgrade was modest and did not require massive investment or construction, but proved to be just enough to successfully challenge the assailant given the weapons and tools he had available. A relatively small investment in physical security combined with a set of well thought out procedures saved tens of lives.
- Balliet was using homemade weapons that are reported to have jammed repeatedly. As occurred in Poway and Christchurch, the assailant’s weapons also jammed which in each case provided an opportunity for people to react or run. Human instinct may cause us to freeze but an awareness of the possibility (and regularity) of technical problems with the assailants’ weaponry can help break the ‘freeze’ response.
- The excessive time taken for the police to arrive is currently being investigated but emphasizes the importance of a combination of protection elements, safe havens and procedures to help mitigate outcomes. Although 2 hours and 37 minutes elapsed before Balliet was caught, during which he fired on innocent people in a number of communities, the synagogue worshippers were safely ensconced in the synagogue and the residents of the town of Halle had been ordered to stay indoors. This was the correct execution of a well-planned procedure.
- Balliet live-streamed his rampage, apparently imitating the terrorist Brenton Tarrant who live streamed the murder of fifty-one people on Facebook at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand on 15 March 2019. On the one hand, the significant ‘failure’ of Balliet’s attack represented a failure of his campaign to promote his agenda on social media, on the other hand it is yet another indication of the power of Facebook specifically and social media in general to be a platform that can be used to spread and incite hate.
In this event, we saw an attempt at a copycat attack to emulate events in the USA and New Zealand. It is incumbent upon us to learn from the cumulative experience of these events and to apply security measures where appropriate to places of worship and to any building which sees gatherings and is considered a possible target.
The Synagogue was not extensively fortified but had undergone a modest upgrade focused on specific threats. MIP Security is an advocate of cost effective and sensible investments in security designed to mitigate relevant threats.
The people in the synagogue were aware of possible threats and were constantly on the look out for suspicious activity. Passers by were alerted by the shooting and went to investigate, presumably innocent of the possibility that there could be a shooting attack occurring in their town, but nevertheless vigilant to something untoward happening. Security Awareness courses help increase vigilance and provide an awareness and understanding of how to react in such circumstances.
In this case, the response of the police was unacceptably long but the procedures in place in the synagogue and in the town helped prevent more injuries or loss of life. Well written and practices Standard Operating Procedures can help mitigate the outcome of attacks and red team exercises are invaluable at testing and fine tuning the procedures.
Lessons learned from these events should be applied to other places of worship worldwide and building security for sensitive locations in general. M.I.P. Security stands at the forefront of these efforts working with communities and authorities around the world to plan, develop and train to mitigate the outcome of events such as these.
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