Far-right extremist held over murder of German politician

Man suspected of shooting dead city administrative chief known for pro-asylum views

Walter Lübcke was found unconscious on the terrace of his home with a gunshot wound to his head shortly after midnight on June 2th. Photograph:  Uwe Zucchi/DPA/AFP/Germany/Outuwe Zucchi/Getty

Walter Lübcke was found unconscious on the terrace of his home with a gunshot wound to his head shortly after midnight on June 2th. Photograph: Uwe Zucchi/DPA/AFP/Germany/Outuwe Zucchi/Getty

 

A German man with neo-Nazi links is being interrogated by police, suspected of shooting dead a politician known for his pro-asylum views.

Walter Lübcke, a senior Christian Democratic Union (CDU) member in the central state of Hesse, was found unconscious on the terrace of his home with a gunshot wound to his head shortly after midnight on June 2nd. He was declared dead two hours later.

At the height of the refugee crisis in 2015, Mr Lübcke, government head in the western city of Kassel, insisted that offering asylum for people fleeing war and violence was in keeping with fundamental Christian values.

“Whoever does not share these values can leave this country at any time,” he said, prompting death threats from the far-right.

News of his death prompted another wave of extremist commentary on social me, with one posting: “Finally the right person gets it.” Several posters are now facing hate speech charges.

His assassination-style killing shocked Germany’s political establishment and on Monday the federal prosecutor confirmed growing suspicions of an extremist link to the death.

On Saturday, a man identified only as Stefan E was arrested after he was reportedly linked to DNA traces on the dead man’s clothing.

“There is considerable evidence of a far-right background to the deed,” said a prosecutor spokesman. “This is shown in particular through the life to date of the suspect and his publicly-expressed political views.”

Police tape surrounds the home of Walter Lübcke. Photograpgh: Swen Pförtner/DPA/AFP/Outswen Pfortner/Getty
Police tape surrounds the home of Walter Lübcke. Photograpgh: Swen Pförtner/DPA/AFP/Outswen Pfortner/Getty

‘There will be deaths’

Born in Bavaria, the suspect reportedly joined the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party (NPD) as a teenager. In later years he is said to have had contact with the neo-Nazi group Combat 18, the armed wing of the “Blood and Honour” organisation.

In 1992, aged 19, Stefan E stabbed a man in a train station toilet because he found it “particularly burdensome . . . that he was a foreigner”.

A year later he planted a pipe bomb in a car outside an asylum accommodation in southern Hesse. The asylum facility was evacuated before the bomb detonated and no one was injured. Stefan E was arrested and served jail time for the attack. A decade ago he was jailed again for seven months for disturbing a union-organised May Day rally in Dortmund.

Searching his home, police found several weapons, storage devices and mobile phones which yielded information about his online activity. In 2018, under the online alias “Game Over”, he is said to have written: “Either this government abdicates shortly or there will be deaths.”

If the killing had a political motive it would be Germany’s first political killing in decades, recalling the UK stabbing of Labour Party lawmaker Jo Cox in 2016.

Past violence

In 1992, then Social Democratic Party (SPD) leader Oskar Lafontaine was stabbed during an election rally. A year later senior Christian Democrat (CDU) politician Wolfgang Schäuble was shot. The perpetrators in both cases were mentally disturbed and both men survived the attacks, though Mr Schäuble was left paralysed in his lower body and confined to a wheelchair.

On Monday, German president Frank Walter Steinmeier urged a quick but thorough investigation – a nod to police failure to link a decade-long series of immigrant killings to an underground neo-Nazi organisation.

He described the initial reaction to the killing as “cynical, tasteless, disgusting” and called for greater means for police and investigators to track down those behind anonymous postings.

“Where language is vulgarised, a crime is never far off,” he said. “The contempt towards a person who was victim of a violent act cannot just outrage us. It challenges us to use every means of the rule of law to pursue vilification and violent in social media.”