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Halle terror attacker holds prison guards hostage

December 13, 2022

German authorities launched an investigation after a far-right extremist who murdered two people in Halle in 2019 managed to take two prison guards hostage.

Burg prison near Magdeburg
Image: Klaus-Dietmar Gabbert/dpa/picture alliance

The German Justice Ministry on Tuesday said right-wing extremist Stephan B. was overpowered by staff at Burg prison near Magdeburg after taking two employees there hostage.

Stephan B. was originally found guilty of two murders and more than 60 counts of attempted murder after a 2019 attack using homemade weapons on a synagogue in the city of Halle.

What happened at the prison?

State criminal police said the 30-year-old B. had taken two prison guards hostage at about 9 p.m. on Monday.

The perpetrator was overpowered by other prison staff, and B. was injured. The staff members were reportedly unhurt.

An investigation is underway into how the incident, which lasted about two hours, unfolded. Officials say they are investigating how the hostage taker was able to take the members of staff hostage.

The hostage-taking had prompted a large-scale police operation, with heavily armed police officers positioned in front of the prison.

The Halle attacker was sentenced to life imprisonment and subsequent preventive detention. He is serving his sentence in Burg prison, the largest and most modern maximum-security prison in the state of Saxony-Anhalt.

B. is reportedly considered an uncooperative and difficult inmate, having tried to escape from Halle prison in June 2020. During outdoor exercise, he climbed over a 3.4-meter (just over 11 foot) fence seeking a way out of the prison. He was recaptured after a short time.

Germany: Helping hand after Halle's attack

"Those who are responsible for prisons in Germany must take another very close look," Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said in a video interview with German newspaper die Welt. "Especially with someone like the attacker in Halle, where we know that he tried to escape during the trial, special attention needs to be paid."

What was Stephan B. found guilty of?

The far-right extremist was found guilty of the Halle terror attack on October 9, 2019, which shocked Germany. Stephan B. had attempted to blast his way into the city's synagogue, where 51 people were observing Yom Kippur, but he failed largely because his arsenal of homemade firearms and explosives couldn't penetrate the locked outer gates.

In frustration, he shot dead two other people — 40-year-old passerby Jana L. and 20-year-old Kevin S., a painter eating his lunch in a nearby kebab shop — before firing at several police officers and other passersby as he made his escape. 

Despite driving past the police who had by then arrived at the synagogue, he was only detained 90 minutes later, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) outside the city.

He was found guilty at the end of his 26-day trial in December 2020, and showed no remorse in court . Judge Ursula Mertens noted the particular severity of the crimes, describing his murderous acts as "cowardly" and "cruel."

B. was not a member of any neo-Nazi terrorist cell, like the National Socialist Underground (NSU), and had not joined any extremist political group.

Instead, he was among a type of "lone" terrorist almost new to Germany until now: Young men radicalized by a globe-spanning internet community of often isolated individuals who communicate on unmoderated forums known as "imageboards."

rc/dj (dpa, AFP)