Man apologises in German court for throwing boy under train

An Eritrean man on Wednesday apologised in a German court for fatally pushing a boy under a train during an episode of paranoid schizophrenia, in a case that stoked a heated immigration debate.

Man apologises in German court for throwing boy under train
The suspect entering the courthouse on Wednesday. Photo: DPA

 “I am infinitely sorry, especially for the family,” suspect Habte Araya said in a written statement read by his lawyer at the opening of the trial in Frankfurt.

The suspect is accused of pushing the eight-year-old boy and his mother onto the tracks in an apparently random attack at Frankfurt's main station last July.

The mother was able to roll off the tracks to avoid the oncoming high-speed InterCity Express train, but the boy was killed instantly.

READ ALSO: Boy, 8, dies after being pushed in front of train in Frankfurt

Araya said he could not remember the crime but it “must have happened according to all the information I have received”, adding that he was “very seriously ill” at the time.

The suspect, who had entered Germany from Switzerland days earlier, is also accused of trying to push a 78-year-old woman onto the tracks, although she managed to save herself.

That woman told the court on Wednesday she remembered seeing the boy and his mother “flying through the air” after the suspect pushed them, and that the platform was filled with “sheer horror”.

Flowers left at the crime scene in July 2019. Photo: DPA

The tragic case led the far-right AfD party to call for tighter controls on foreigners entering Germany, although the suspect was not in the country illegally.

Following a psychiatric assessment, prosecutors said Araya was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia and had “at least a considerably reduced ability” to control his actions.

They say he committed manslaughter, attempted manslaughter and dangerous bodily injury and have applied for him to be placed in a secure psychiatric institution.

He could also be found to have committed murder and attempted murder if he is deemed to have acted with malice and “deliberately exploited the victims' defencelessness”.

Judges said Wednesday they saw “a whole series” of indications that mental illness could have rendered him unable to control his actions.

Father of three

Araya did not previously know the victims and showed no signs of alcohol or drug use at the time of the attack, according to prosecutors.

A married father of three, he had been living in Switzerland and was on the run from Swiss police after a violent incident the previous week.

He had recently undergone psychiatric treatment, according to police in the Swiss canton of Zurich where he lived.

READ ALSO: Man accused of pushing boy under train in Frankfurt is father of three

The week before the incident in Frankfurt, he had threatened a neighbour with a knife and locked her up, and also trapped his wife and their children, aged one, three and four, in their flat before running away.

Police said it appeared the suspect had not been listed as wanted in European police databases and had been able to cross borders freely.

Tougher border controls

The case shocked Germany and led politicians to call for heightened security, including more camera surveillance at train stations and tighter border checks.

Conservative Interior Minister Horst Seehofer also saw the case as an occasion to take a tougher line on immigration, suggesting more extensive screening and “occasional temporary checks” at borders.

A government spokesman said last week that plans for increased security in stations were still under review, but had been slowed down due to coronavirus restrictions.

In a similar case just one month before the Frankfurt incident, a 34-year-old mother died after being pushed in front of a train, allegedly by a Serbian man.

READ ALSO: How Germany plans to improve safety at railway stations

Germany's far right highlighted both killings to once more criticise what it regards as the flawed immigration policies of Chancellor Angela Merkel's government.

“Protect the citizens of our country at long last,” the anti-migration AfD party's parliamentary group leader Alice Weidel tweeted at the time.

Araya had been living in Switzerland since 2006 and was granted asylum in 2008.

According to the Bild newspaper, he had worked for a local transport company and was described by authorities as “an example of successful integration”.

He was even featured in a campaign by Swiss authorities to promote postive integration.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


German woman ‘killed lookalike to fake her own death’

A German-Iraqi woman murdered a lookalike she found on social media to fake her own death, police have said as new details emerge of the bizarre case that first came to light last year.

German woman 'killed lookalike to fake her own death'

The body of a 23-year-old woman was found in a car in August at the Bavarian town of Ingolstadt with multiple stab wounds.

Police initially said they believed the victim owned the car, but the next day identified her as someone else who looked “remarkably similar”.

The 23-year-old German-Iraqi and a 23-year-old Kosovan man were arrested on suspicion of manslaughter.

However, police are now working on the theory the pair murdered the victim after tracking her down online because she looked similar to the German-Iraqi.

“Investigators now believe the female suspect wanted to go into hiding and fake her death due to family problems,” they said in a statement Monday.

She had contacted several women who looked like her via social media and attempted to lure them into meeting her by making “false promises”, the police said.

She contacted the victim in early August and arranged to meet her on August 16.

The German-Iraqi woman and the Kosovan man travelled to the victim’s home in Heilbronn, near Stuttgart, to pick her up.

On the way back to Ingolstadt, they allegedly lured her out of the vehicle in a wooded area and killed her, inflicting “a large number” of knife wounds.

The suspects then continued on to Ingolstadt, where the body was found lying in the car in the evening.

According to the daily Süddeustche Zeitung, the German-Iraqi was a beautician who entrapped the victim via Instagram by offering her cosmetics.

Both women had “long brown hair, a dark complexion and a heavily made-up face”, the newspaper said.