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Wuppertal synagogue arsonists stand trial

January 14, 2015

Three men have been brought before a court in Germany for allegedly trying to set fire to a synagogue in Wuppertal in July. The act has been seen as indicative of growing anti-Semitism.

Brandanschlag auf die Wuppertaler Synagoge 2014
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/O. Berg

A 24-year-old Palestinian on trial in Germany has admitted to his involvement in the arson attack on a synagogue in Wuppertal in July 2014.

He said that he was upset about the ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians and wanted to "make a statement" with the attack, he told the district court in Wuppertal on Wednesday. He added that he had not intended on setting fire to the synagogue or hurting anyone. He also said that he had been intoxicated at the time.

After initially denying involvement in the case, he also fingered two other suspects as accomplices. All three men are on trial for attempted arson.

Attempted arson

Late on July 29, Molotov cocktails were thrown at the reception area of a synagogue (pictured) in Wuppertal. It was a synagogue that had been destroyed under the Nazis during the 1938 Kristallnacht and since rebuilt.

One man was arrested, an 18-year-old Palestinian. Five weeks after the attack, two further suspects were arrested - an 18-year-old and a 24-year-old man, both Palestinian.

That same evening, several hundred people participated in a rally outside the synagogue. Peter Jung, the mayor of Wuppertal, called for solidarity with the Jewish community. Dieter Graumann, the President of the German Central Council of Jews at the time, condemned the attack, as did Germany's Central Council of Muslims, which also registered several attacks on mosques at the end of last year.

Growing trends of anti-Semitism

While the attack didn't cause any damage, it was indicative of growing anti-Semitism during the summer's six-week war in Gaza, which killed over 2,000 Palestinians and less than 70 Israelis and all but destroyed vast chunks of Gaza's infrastructure. During the war, which lasted until September, there was a wave of pro-Palestinian protests in Germany. Rights watchdog Amnesty International released multiple reports condemning Israel's conduct in the war, and accusing it of war crimes.

During the armed conflict between Israel and the radical Islamists of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the Protestant German news agency Evangelischer Pressedienst (epd) claims to have observed "an increase of attacks on Jewish institutions and cemeteries." The Central Council of Jews in Germany won't comment on those claims. But it points to the Berlin-based Amadeu Antonio Foundation, which has been documenting such cases on its website since 2001 - based on victims' accounts and on newspaper articles.

A study by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation on November 10 last year titled "The Changing Society: Right-wing Views in Germany 2012" showed that right-wing extremist views were spreading in Germany. It found that nine percent of Germans have adopted right-wing beliefs. This was an increase on the foundation's previous study conducted two years earlier.

In mid-November, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said at a conference on anti-Semitism that "hatred of Jews" was in the rise in Germany and across Europe. He attributed this to spiraling violence in the Middle East.

sb/kms (dpa, epd, Reuters)