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CRIME

Man jailed for Chemnitz knife killing that sparked far-right protests

A 24-year-old Syrian man was sentenced to nine and a half years in jail Thursday for a knife killing that sparked racist street violence and far-right protests in the eastern German city of Chemnitz.

Man jailed for Chemnitz knife killing that sparked far-right protests
Sheikhi being escourted by police in Dresden on Thursday. Photo: DPA

The court found that Alaa Sheikhi, together with an Iraqi man still at large, stabbed to death 35-year-old German Daniel Hillig in the early hours of August 26st last year.

The manslaughter conviction comes at a sensitive time, one year after thousands of neo-Nazis and enraged citizens marched through Chemnitz, and 10 days before state elections in the ex-communist region.

The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which has railed against immigrants and Islam, is forecast to poll strongly in the state of Saxony and neighbouring Brandenburg on September 1st.

READ ALSO: Could far-right AfD really win in upcoming east German elections?

The court heard that the fugitive Iraqi, a 22-year-old identified only as Farhad A., was first to confront Hillig, a carpenter with German-Cuban roots.

Both he and Sheikhi then stabbed Hillig, who died of heart and lung wounds, as well as another man, named as Dimitri M., who was badly injured.

Sheikhi, who arrived in Germany during the 2015 mass migrant influx to Europe, was detained hours after the attack, together with another Iraqi who was later released for lack of evidence.

Defence lawyer Ricarda Lang had argued that the case against Sheikhi was based only on questionable, late-night witness testimony rather than fingerprints, DNA or other forensic evidence.

Lang also asserted, shortly before the verdict, that the court may convict and jail the defendant because “someone needs to take the blame so that Chemnitz stays quiet”.

Far-right hotbed

The trial was held not in Chemnitz but in Saxony's state capital Dresden, for security reasons and because of what the court called the “extraordinarily high public interest”.

News of the killing a year ago spread within hours on social media and led neo-Nazis, angry football hooligans, extremist martial arts fans and others to march through Chemnitz.

In some cases, the mobs randomly attacked people of foreign appearance and,
in follow-up mass rallies, fascist activists openly performed the illegal Hitler salute.

Local Jewish, Turkish and Iranian restaurants at the time became targets of
xenophobic vandalism.

READ ALSO: Jewish restaurant attacked amid German protests

As the extremist AfD, Pegida and Pro Chemnitz movements marched in Chemnitz, and anti-fascist groups organised large counter-protests, a political fight also raged in Berlin.

Anti-migrant protesters hold German flags during a demonstration in Chemnitz on September 1st 2018. Photo: DPA

In a controversy that shook Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition government, the then-domestic spy chief Hans-Georg Maaßen, an outspoken critic of her liberal immigration policy, questioned her assessment that the violence amounted to organised “hunts” of ethnic minorities.

Maaßen, a member of Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), eventually had to
step down. But he has recently been touring eastern Germany with speaking
engagements outlining his hardline stance on immigration and security.

The Chemnitz unrest threw a harsh spotlight on the drab city of 240,000 people, formerly known as Karl-Marx-Stadt, which has had an extremist subculture since the turbulent years after the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall.

In the 1990s it was an early hideout for a militant neo-Nazi cell dubbed
the National Socialist Underground, which was only uncovered in 2011 after its
members had murdered nine immigrants and a police officer.

Last October, police arrested eight men accused of having formed the far-right militant group “Revolution Chemnitz”.

And in March, fans of fourth-tier football club Chemnitzer FC paid tribute to the recently deceased former security chief Thomas Haller, co-founder of a group called “HooNaRa”, short for Hooligans-Nazis-Racists.

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CRIME

German man jailed for killing petrol station worker in mask row

A 50-year-old German man was jailed for life Tuesday for shooting dead a petrol station cashier because he was angry about being told to wear a mask while buying beer.

German man jailed for killing petrol station worker in mask row

The September 2021 murder in the western town of Idar-Oberstein shocked Germany, which saw a vocal anti-mask and anti-vaccine movement emerge in response to the government’s coronavirus restrictions.

The row started when 20-year-old student worker Alex W. asked the man to put on a mask inside the shop, as required in all German stores at the time.

After a brief argument, the man left.

The perpetrator – identified only as Mario N. – returned about an hour and a half later, this time wearing a mask. But as he bought his six-pack of beer to the till, he took off his mask and another argument ensued.

He then pulled out a revolver and shot the cashier in the head point-blank.

On Tuesday, the district court in Bad-Kreuznach convicted Mario N. of murder and unlawful possession of a firearm, and handed him a life sentence.

READ ALSO: Shock in Germany after cashier shot dead in Covid mask row

Under German law, people given a life sentence can usually seek parole after 15 years. His defence team had sought a sentence of manslaughter, rather than murder.

At the start of the trial, prosecutor Nicole Frohn told how Mario N. had felt increasingly angry about the measures imposed to curb the pandemic, seeing them as an infringement on his rights.

“Since he knew he couldn’t reach the politicians responsible, he decided to kill him (Alex W.),” she said.

Mario N. turned himself in to police the day after the shooting.

German has relaxed most of its coronavirus rules, although masks are still required in some settings, such as public transport.

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