German neo-Nazi admits to killing pro-refugee politician

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A German neo-Nazi on trial over the murder of Walter Luebcke Wednesday admitted to killing the pro-refugee politician out of hatred for foreigners.

The Kassel government president Walter Luebcke was killed in June 2019 on the terrace of his apartment building in the Kassel district.

In a first confession Ernst had given to police officers, he had admitted the crime.

He later portrayed what happened before an investigating judge as an accident and denied having held the gun at the time of the shot.

But Wednesday he again admitted before a judge that he shot and killed the politician.

“I fired the shot,” Stephan Ernst, 46, told the court about the murder in a statement read out by his defense.

“No one should die because he has another view,” said Ernst, adding that he had been “misled by wrong ideas”.

Luebcke’s killing, believed to be Germany’s first far-right political assassination since World War II, has shocked the nation and highlighted the growing threat of right-wing extremism.

The German neo-Nazi has to answer for the crime before the State Protection Senate of the Higher Regional Court.

According to the Federal Attorney General, the 46-year-old father acted from right-wing extremist motives.

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Federal prosecutors have said Ernst was motivated by “racism and xenophobia” when he shot Luebcke in the head on June 1 last year.

Apologising to the victim’s family, Ernst said he had carried out a “cowardly and cruel” act.

“I know that what I and Hartmann did to you will always be inexcusable. What we did was wrong,” Ernst told the family in the statement.

‘Did Not Act Alone’

But Stephan Ernst insisted that he did not act alone. He said his co-defendant Markus Hartmann, who was there at the scene, was also involved in the crime.

Hartmann has been charged for helping Ernst train with firearms, including the murder weapons.

Ernst said that Markus Hartmann radicalized and incited him before the crime. Together they planned the attack on Leubcke, he added.

Change of Statement by German neo-Nazi

In January, Stephan Ernst had described another version of the crime to an investigating judge.
According to that version, he had gone to Leubcke’s house with Markus Hartmann.
The German neo-Nazi claimed that only wanted to intimidate and threaten the politician, and the shot was accidentally released when Hartmann held the gun.

It was initially unclear why Ernst had changed his statement.

At the beginning of the trial, presiding judge Thomas Sagebiel asked the accused to confess.

“Don’t listen to your defense, listen to me,” the judge said. An early admission and repentance always helps, he advised.

During the second confession, Ernst was represented by the lawyer Frank Hannig. This was recalled last week at the request of the second defense lawyer Mustafa Kaplan as a mandatory defense lawyer.

The Frankfurt Higher Regional Court had said: The breakdown in the relationship of trust between Ernst and Hannig was understandable.

Walter Luebcke

Walter Luebcke belonged to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative CDU party and headed the Kassel regional council in the western state of Hesse.

He supported Merkel’s 2015 decision to open the country’s borders to refugees, with more than one million arriving since then, and spoke in favor of hosting asylum seekers in a local town.

Prosecutors say Ernst and his accomplice attended a speech by Luebcke in October 2015 when the politician defended helping refugees, adding that anyone who did not agree with those values was “free to leave the country”.

Far-Right Hatred For Foreigners

The remark was widely shared online and turned Luebcke into a hate figure for the far-right.

After the speech, Ernst “increasingly projected his hatred of foreigners” on to Luebcke, according to the indictment.

Ernst was angered by mass sexual assaults by migrants against women in Cologne on New Year’s Eve 2015 and the 2016 terror attack in the French city of Nice.

The German neo-Nazi then “began planning the murder in earnest” and started tracking Luebcke’s movements, the indictment said.

Between 2016 and 2018, prosecutors say Ernst worked with Hartmann to improve his skill with firearms, and the two attended right-wing demonstrations together.

History Sheeter

During their investigations, prosecutors separately charged Ernst with attempted murder for allegedly stabbing an Iraqi asylum seeker in the back in 2016.

He is a history sheeter with a long criminal history and was already known to police as a neo-Nazi sympathiser.

He was convicted of an attempted bomb attack on an asylum home in 1993. In 2009, German media say he took part in neo-Nazi clashes targeting a union demonstration.

But the German neo-Nazi then slipped off the security services’ radar, leading to criticism that the authorities were not taking the far-right threat seriously enough.