BERLIN (JTA) — Police have released a knife-wielding Syrian refugee who had to be subdued by pepper spray by security guards outside a Berlin synagogue after he crossed its security barrier.
Investigators said they had to release the man, a 23-year-old from Damascus, because they did not have enough evidence to charge him with a crime at this point. The investigation is ongoing, according to the state Prosecutor’s Office.
The response was woefully inadequate and even dangerous, Josef Schuster, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said in a statement Monday. He said the violent nature of Friday’s incident prior to Shabbat services at the historic Neue Synagogue should have merited a tougher response.
A “dangerous man” is now at large, he said.
According to a statement from the Prosecutor’s Office, two security guards drew guns on the man, identified by police as Murad M., after he crossed the security barrier, but he did not respond to their order to drop his knife and continued mumbling in Arabic. Local media reported that he said “God is great” in Arabic, a phrase often used by Arab terrorists.
Police subdued the man using pepper spray. He dropped the knife and was arrested.
The man has a residency permit ending in December 2020 and did not have a prior police record.
On Saturday morning, the man was released after a search of his apartment initially failed to turn up any evidence for a motive.