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CRIME

Verdict due in Chemnitz killing that sparked racist riots

A 24-year-old Syrian man is expected to face a court verdict Thursday over a knife killing that sparked far-right street violence and protests in the eastern German city of Chemnitz.

Verdict due in Chemnitz killing that sparked racist riots
Far-right protestors in Chemnitz on September 7th, 2018. Photo: DPA

The ruling comes at a sensitive time, one year after thousands of neo-Nazis and enraged citizens marched through Chemnitz, and just over a week ahead of state elections in the ex-communist region.

SEE ALSO: Chemnitz: Portrait of a city shaken by anti-foreigner riots

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.

In the high-profile manslaughter case, in which a verdict is expected after 12 pm GMT, prosecutors charge 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 26th, 2018.

The Iraqi, a 22-year-old identified only as Farhad A., was first to confront Hillig, a carpenter with German-Cuban roots, according to the prosecution which wants Sheikhi jailed for 10 years.

Both the Arabs then allegedly 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 counsel for Sheikhi argued that the case against him is flawed and based only on questionable, late-night witness testimony rather than fingerprints, DNA or other forensic evidence.

The trial has been held in Saxony's  capital Dresden for security reasons and because of what the court called the “extraordinarily high public interest”.

SEE ALSO: Suspect charged with killing sparked Chemnitz far-right riots

Far-right hotbed

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 became targets of xenophobic
vandalism.

As the extremist AfD, Pegida and Pro Chemnitz movements marched in Chemnitz, and anti-fascist groups organized large counter-protests, a political fight also raged in Berlin, centred on whether the violence amounted to organized “hunts” of ethnic minorities.

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, eventually had to step down.

Maaßen, a member of Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), has recently been touring Saxony state with speaking engagements outlining his hardline stance on immigration and security.

READ ALSO: German spy chief Maaßen removed from his post

He has again embroiled the CDU in controversy after Merkel's anointed successor, Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, suggested he be kicked out of the party — a move many see as playing into AfD hands.

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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