German court sentences synagogue gunman to life in prison

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BERLIN (REUTERS) - A German court on Monday (Dec 21) sentenced a man to life in prison for killing two people in a shooting attack near a synagogue in eastern Germany on the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur last year.

The Naumburg Higher Regional Court found the man, referred to by authorities only as Stephan B., guilty of murder, attempted murder and incitement, a court spokesman said.

Stephan B., who live-streamed the shooting in the city of Halle on the internet, had confessed to the crime and to a far-right, anti-Semitic motivation.

Prosecutors said he aimed to kill as many as possible of the more than 50 worshippers inside the synagogue. Only his poor aim and the unreliability of his homemade firearms spared nine other people from being wounded during his half-hour rampage, according to the intended victims.

Life imprisonment in Germany has an indeterminate length and can be changed to parole after 15 years.

But the court's sentence includes a provision for preventive detention, which denies release after the completion of the prison sentence to protect the public from dangerous offenders.

The World Jewish Congress welcomed the ruling.

"I commend the German justice system for imposing the harshest possible sentence on a heartless, vicious anti-Semite who attempted to murder Jews in a synagogue on the holiest day of the Jewish year, and took the lives of two innocent people who happened to be in his way," WJC President Ronald Lauder said.

"The speed, follow-through and decisiveness of this trial is a definitive example of how the judicial system must respond to such horrific violence, making crystal-clear there is no place for such hateful, harmful rhetoric or behaviour in society."

Anti-Semitic crimes are particularly sensitive in Germany due to the legacy of the Holocaust.

Their number rose by 13 per cent last year, the interior minister said in May, blaming right-wing radicals.

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