The police took the teens, three aged 17 and one only 14, into custody on Tuesday under suspicion they assaulted a 30-year-old house painter in a U-Bahn station in the German capital’s Lichtenberg district.
The teenagers allegedly attacked the victim and his coworker late on Friday evening. While one man could escape with minor injuries, the other was beaten and kicked so badly he remains in a coma with serious brain trauma.
Berlin’s Interior Minister Ehrhart Körting said on Wednesday he was shocked by the sheer brutality of the crime.
The teens, reportedly with Albanian, Kenyan, Kosovar and Iraqi backgrounds, claimed the painter and his colleague had provoked them by chanting the Nazi salute “Sieg Heil” at them. However, the authorities said they believe this is likely only an attempt to justify the attack after speaking to witnesses.
The assailants reportedly do not have previous criminal records, but are likely to be charged with attempted murder and causing grievous bodily harm.
The authorities also lamented the apparent cowardice of bystanders for not trying to stop the attack.
"Particularly shocking for us is that during the attack several people walked by without helping," an investigator told Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel.
Even worse, the police are investigating the possibility an unknown witness stole the victim's jacket as he lay unconscious on the U-Bahn platform.
The beating is reminiscent of an incident in Munich in 2009 that led to the death of Dominik Brunner. Two German teens beat and kicked the 50-year-old businessman at an S-Bahn commuter train platform after he tried to protect a group of younger children from their bullying. Brunner died shortly afterwards of heart failure.