German with neo-Nazi past admits to killing CDU’s Walter Lübcke

Stefan Ernst claims he acted alone but authorities vow to continue investigation

Guard of honour at the coffin of murdered German politician Walter Lübcke, who was shot in the head at close range on June 2nd. Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty

Guard of honour at the coffin of murdered German politician Walter Lübcke, who was shot in the head at close range on June 2nd. Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty

 

German prosecutors say they will continue their investigation into the murder of a regional politician earlier this month even after the confession of the main suspect.

On Tuesday, after more than a week in custody, Stefan Ernst admitted to the fatal shooting of Walter Lübcke, a senior Christian Democratic Union (CDU) politician, on June 2nd.

Ernst, a 45-year-old German man with a history of neo-Nazi links and violent attacks, was arrested on June 15th in connection with the attack but had remained silent for 10 days.

Breaking his silence for eight hours of questioning, the chief suspect said the killing near the western city of Kassel was pre-motivated and that he acted alone, angered by Lübcke’s liberal immigration stance.

The 65-year-old was shot at close range and the murder weapon remains missing.

“We are happy at this quick breakthrough,” said Horst Seehofer, Germany’s federal interior minister. “But for us the investigation is not over. We will keep working intensely on whether there were co-conspirators and probing the milieu in which the suspect lived.”

Speck of skin

After arrests and prison terms for assault in the 1990s, Ernst had dropped off the radar in the decade since becoming a father. His active police file had been archived until he was linked to the crime scene via a tiny speck of skin found on the dead man’s clothes.

The two men met only once before, according to investigators: a public meeting in October 2015, at the height of the refugee crisis that saw more than one million people arrive in Germany.

At that meeting, Lübcke insisted that helping people in difficulty was in line with Germany’s Christian values. “Whoever doesn’t represent these values can always leave if he feels misunderstood.”

A recording of that meeting shows him facing boos and whistles from some members of the audience. Ernst said he attended that meeting and became more active in far-right online portals and chat groups.

Prosecutors declined to say on Wednesday why the killing took place four years after the height of the refugee crisis – and Lübcke’s controversial remarks.

Political killing

If tried and convicted, Ernst would be the first man found guilty of a political killing in postwar Germany.

The killing has sparked unhappy memories of the National Socialist Underground (NSU), a trio cell that killed nine foreign nationals and a German policewoman in a decade-long killing spree before they were discovered by police.

Given that, police and prosecutors said on Wednesday they were keeping an open mind on the suspect’s “lone wolf” claims. In the Bundestag, meanwhile, politicians criticised an increasingly emotive and aggressive tone in Germany’s political debate and parliamentary president Wolfgang Schäuble said incitement created a “fertile soil” for stirring up violence.

“Whoever manures this soil makes themselves complicit,” he said, drawing applause from all parliamentary parties except the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD).

Meanwhile in the Bavarian state parliament on Wednesday, an AfD deputy was criticised for failing to stand during a minute’s silence for Walter Lübcke.