A trial of two neo-Nazis has begun in Germany over the murder of pro-refugee politician Walter Lubcke, in a case that highlighted the growing threat of far-right violence in the country.
The main suspect, Stephan E, 46, appeared before the higher regional court in Frankfurt on Tuesday alongside co-defendant Markus H, 44, who is accused of helping Stephan E train with firearms, including the murder weapon.
The defendants’ surnames were redacted due to Germany’s privacy laws.
Federal prosecutors believe Stephan E was motivated by “racism and xenophobia” when he allegedly drove to Lubcke’s house on June 1, 2019, and shot him in the head.
The killing has been described as Germany’s first far-right political assassination since World War II.
The trial is expected to draw huge interest, but seating in the courtroom was limited because of coronavirus social distancing measures.
Lubcke’s wife and two adult sons attended the opening hearing.
“Hatred and violence can have no place in our society,” they earlier said in a statement. “All of us who stand for a free democracy must not fall silent, but take a clear position.”
Lubcke, 65, 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 during Europe’s migrant crisis and spoke in favour of hosting asylum seekers in a local town.
Prosecutors believe Stephan E and his accomplice attended a speech by Lubcke in October 2015 when the politician defended helping refugees and said anyone who did not agree with those values was “free to leave the country”.
The remark was widely shared online and sparked a furious reaction from people on the far right.
After the speech, Stephan E “increasingly projected his hatred of foreigners” onto Lubcke, prosecutors said in the indictment. Stephan E allegedly began tracking Lubcke’s movements.
Between 2016 and 2018, prosecutors say he worked with Markus H to improve his skill with firearms, and the two are said to have attended far-right demonstrations together.
In the course of their investigations, prosecutors separately charged Stephan E with attempted murder for allegedly stabbing an Iraqi asylum seeker in the back in 2016.
They also uncovered a cache of weapons and ammunition belonging to Stephan E, including revolvers, pistols and a submachine gun.
Although Stephan E initially admitted to killing Lubcke, he later retracted his confession and said Markus H had pulled the trigger.
But prosecutors maintain that while the accomplice “accepted and supported” the danger Stephan E posed, he was not aware of concrete plans for an attack.