German police arrest two in killing of pro-migrant politician

The men allegedly helped get a gun for Walter Luebcke's killer, a far-right sympathiser who has confessed to the crime.

    An honour guard accompanies the coffin of Kassel District President Walter Luebcke during his funeral on June 13 [Swen Pfoertner/Pool/Reuters]
    An honour guard accompanies the coffin of Kassel District President Walter Luebcke during his funeral on June 13 [Swen Pfoertner/Pool/Reuters]

    Two more men have been arrested in connection with the killing of a pro-immigration politician from Chancellor Angela Merkel's party, prosecutors in Germany have said. 

    A 64-year-old suspect, identified as Elmar J, was arrested for selling the handgun allegedly used in the June 2 killing, while the second man, Markus H, 43, is suspected of putting the seller in contact with the killer.

    German law prohibits publishing their family names. 

    Politician Walter Luebcke, who led the Kassel regional administration in central Germany, was shot dead at his home on June 2.

    The killing has sent shockwaves through Germany and raised fresh questions about the country's response to the rising threat from neo-Nazis.

    Stephan Ernst, a 45-year-old German with a string of convictions for violent anti-migrant crime, has confessed to killing Luebcke and said he "acted alone", Germany's Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said on Wednesday.

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    Investigators believe both the men arrested on Thursday were aware of Ernst's right-wing views, said Markus Schmitt, a spokesman for federal prosecutors.

    Execution-style killing

    The two men were arrested in Kassel, where Luebcke was murdered, and Hoexter, a town about 70 kilometres farther north, while objects related to Germany's Nazi era were reportedly found in their apartments, according to the AFP news agency.

    "We also assume they believed it was possible and accepted that [the main suspect] would later use the firearms for a politically motivated killing," said Schmitt.

    However, he added that there was no indication that they knew of the plan to kill Luebcke or were directly involved in carrying it out.

    Luebcke was an outspoken defender of Merkel's decision to welcome refugees and in 2015 drew the wrath of right-wing groups by telling Germans who objected that they could leave the country.

    He was shot in the head at close range on the terrace of his family home in Wolfhagen near Kassel.

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    Luebcke's killing revived debate about whether Germany is doing enough to combat far-right groups.

    In 2011 German authorities discovered that members of a neo-Nazi group, the National Socialist Underground (NSU), had murdered eight Turks, a Greek man and a female German police officer between 2000 and 2007.

    The BfV, Germany's domestic intelligence agency, said in its annual report published on Thursday that the number of "violence-orientated right-wing extremists" had risen to a record 12,700.

    "Given the high affinity for carrying weapons in the far-right extremist spectrum, those numbers are extremely worrying," Seehofer said, presenting the report.

    "The risk of an attack is high."

    'A language of hate'

    Seehofer had said on Wednesday that the investigation into Luebcke's murder would continue, and security services would get more staff and resources to monitor far-right groups, especially on the internet.

    The 2011 discovery of the NSU unleashed fierce criticism of intelligence agencies and police for underestimating the risk of far-right violence. Reforms were then introduced, such as closer coordination between agencies and regions.

    Luebcke was a member of Merkel's Christian Democrats who have said the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) must share blame for his murder, having legitimised "a language of hate" that encourages political violence.

    The AfD has rejected suggestions that its anti-immigration stance was to blame for Luebcke's death and said instead that its members were the victims of left-wing violence.

    On Wednesday, a regional AfD legislator in the Bavarian parliament was condemned after he remained seated as the chamber stood for a minute's silence to remember Luebcke.

    SOURCE: News agencies