Detectives study arson attack on Turks in Germany

31st March 2008, Comments 0 comments

An apartment building near Stuttgart was set on fire Saturday morning.

Stuttgart -- Halim Arada, 48, looked gaunt Sunday as he described the nightmare of Turkish residents in Germany: having a homicidal racist set fire to your home while you are asleep.

Early Saturday, that vision appeared to come true in Arada's block of flats in the town of Backnang, 25 kilometers northwest of Stuttgart. Police are still trying to find who set alight a pram that was parked in the building's public foyer.

"We are scared," Arada said, as he described the fire in the building, which he said was home to nine families.

"Thank God nobody was really hurt," he added. The fire was quickly put out and the tenants have been able to stay in the building. The damage to the foyer was negligible.

The nightmare for Germany's Turks began 15 years ago, in May 1993, when racists, who were later convicted and punished, set alight to a Turkish home in Solingen and five women were killed.

"Since the Solingen arson, we've always had a fire extinguisher at home," Arada said. "That was lucky for us this time."

He recalls how a garbage bin outside the five-storey building was set on fire about a year and a half ago.

"We never found out who did it," he said.

Arada showed a reporter the cramped back yard, which probably granted the attacker access through an unlocked door.

The chilling accompaniment to the latest fire was a crudely written message spanning several meters of the back wall of the building, though it is not yet certain it was spray painted there at the same time as the fire was lit.

The words "All die" are legible, but the start is illegible: it may say "Germans all die" or "Now all die" or something else.

Next to it are two swastikas, drawn with the tips pointed counter-clockwise, rather than clockwise like a Nazi swastika.

That has puzzled observers, since neo-Nazis would be assumed to know their swastikas even if they cannot write. Arada said it did not strike him as being important: erroneous hate is still hate.

Police in Backnang declined Sunday to say what they think, stressing that a racist attack was only one of the conceivable motives.

"The inquiry is continuing with all directions open," a police spokesman said.

Detectives say an accelerant was poured into the pram first, but will not say what the substance was out of concern that a disclosure might help the culprit cover tracks.

A police officer at the house said, "These people had enormous luck that the fire was put out straight away." However a police media statement said it was physically unlikely the fire would have spread.

Arada's daughter discovered the burning pram as she was leaving home at 4.30 am to travel to her trainee job in Stuttgart.

She woke her brother Sefa, 19, who rapidly grabbed the extinguisher and sprayed the chemical over the pram while the father called the police. "They came round straight away with the fire engines," he said gratefully.

Prams and push-chairs containing blankets are often parked in the public foyers of German apartment buildings since they cannot be carried up or down stairs to the tenants' private spaces and there is almost no risk that they will be stolen.

Five residents inhaled toxic fumes in the pre-dawn Saturday incident. Two younger women, aged 16 and 17, were treated in hospital, and were discharged Sunday.

Most tenants of the block are ethnic Turks, while one tenant is a Norwegian man, another a German and others come from former Yugoslavia.

The Turkish minority in Germany has been concerned in recent weeks that a February 3 fire that killed nine Turks in Ludwigshafen was a deliberate attack and not an accident caused by old wiring or heating equipment.

The Backnang pram fire recalls a widely reported but later disproved claim that the Ludwigshafen blaze began in a pram at street level. But forensic scientists concluded that that fire had somehow ignited in the old building's basement.

Residents of Backnang say it is common knowledge in the town that there are far rightists living there.

Police say several persons of far-right views were arrested and convicted two years ago when a firebomb was thrown at a Turkish-owned takeaway stand. This time, a team of 10 detectives on the case say they have no firm leads yet.

DPA with Expatica

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