Tight security for German 'veil martyr' trial Monday

24th October 2009, Comments 0 comments

The defendant is accused of stabbing Marwa al-Sherbini to death in a courtroom in the very same building where he will appear for his three-week-long trial.

Berlin -- Under tight security, a man stands trial in Dresden on Monday for the murder of a pregnant Egyptian woman that stoked anger against Germany and its media in her home country and the wider Muslim world.

The defendant, for legal reasons named only as Alex W., is accused of stabbing to death Marwa al-Sherbini on July 1 in a courtroom in the very same building where he will appear for his three-week-long trial.

The 28-year-old, who was born in Russia, plunged an 18-cm (seven-inch) kitchen knife into Sherbini, 31, three months pregnant at the time with her second child, at least 16 times. She bled to death at the scene.

He is also charged with attempting to murder her husband, Elwy Okaz, in the same frenzied attack. All this happened in front of their young son, aged three and a half at the time.

The fact that such an incident could happen, and the slow reaction by Germany's media and its politicians left the country open to charges of Islamophobia and worse in Egypt and the wider Muslim world.

With no security in the courtroom at the time, it took several minutes for a police officer to arrive, who then proceeded to shoot Okaz in the leg, believing him to be the attacker. He survived.

It took a week for the murder to become a big story in German newspapers, many of which focused on the issue of court security, linking it to an earlier incident in April, not the background to the incident.

The country's politicians were caught on the hop, with Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman not commenting on the killing until a week afterwards.

Dubbed the "veil martyr,” thousands took to the streets for her funeral in her hometown Alexandria, reportedly shouting slogans like "The Germans are the enemies of God" and "Down with Germany.”

Anti-German protests also took place in Iran.

The reason why they were in the courtroom in the first place dates back to an incident in August 2008 in Dresden, where they lived on different sides of the same street -- and in more ways than one.

Sherbini was a trained pharmacist who worked in a chemist's, her husband a geneticist on a posting to the renowned Max Planck Institute. Alex W. was on benefits, and lived in a grim tower block.

"They were winners, he was a loser," the left-wing Tageszeitung daily said this week.

In August 2008, according to press reports, Sherbini asked Alex W. to move from a playground swing where he sat smoking a cigarette, so that her son Mustafa could use it.

He refused, calling Sherbini, who was wearing a headscarf, an "Islamist,” a "terrorist" and a "bitch.” She duly had him prosecuted and he was fined 780 euros (1,170 dollars).

His appeal against the sentence brought them face to face again in court in July.

Alex W. is a "Spaetaussiedler" ("late emigrant"), the name given to eastern Europeans of German descent entitled to automatic German citizenship who have settled in Dresden in large numbers.

He moved to Germany from Perm in the Urals in 2003.

Experts say that the many younger "late emigrants" in the depressed former communist east are a fertile breeding ground for the far-right, and Alex W. is no exception.

In his fateful court appearance on July 1, he admitted voting for the neo-Nazi party NPD and said Muslims had no place in Europe, according to press reports.

Prosecutors are seeking a life sentence.

Simon Sturdee/AFP/Expatica

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