Neo-Nazi charged with murder ‘projected his xenophobia’ on German pro-migrant politician

German prosecutors said Wednesday they had formally charged a known neo-Nazi with the June 2019 murder of a pro-refugee politician, the first in a string of recent far-right killings.

Neo-Nazi charged with murder 'projected his xenophobia' on German pro-migrant politician
Stephen Ernst in July 2019. Photo: DPA

Federal investigators said 45-year-old Stephan Ernst drove to Walter Lübcke's house in Wolfhagen, in the state of Hesse in central Germany, on the evening of June 1st, 2019.

He crept up under cover of darkness to the terrace where Lübcke sat before shooting him in the head with a revolver.

Ernst's “racism and xenophobia founded on an ethnic-nationalist attitude were decisive in the act”, prosecutors said in a statement.

The suspect and his fellow accused, identified only as Markus H., had attended a political meeting in October 2015 where Lübcke argued in favour of  accommodating refugees in the town of Lohfelden.

Ernst “from the time of the meeting increasingly projected his xenophobia onto Dr Walter Lübcke,” a regional politician from Chancellor Angela Merkel's centre-right CDU party, prosecutors said.

Following mass sexual assaults by migrants against women in Cologne on New Year's Eve 2015 and a July 2016 terror attack in French city Nice, Ernst began spying on Lübcke in preparation for the murder, travelling repeatedly to the politician's house to make his plans.

Meanwhile, fellow defendant Markus H., who is charged with complicity in the murder, helped Ernst train with firearms in forests and at gun clubs between 2016 and 2018, “including with the murder weapon”.

READ ALSO: 'A new strategy': How Germany is stepping  up fight against far-right extremism

Walter Lübcke was shot to the head. Photo: DPA

'Serious wounds'

Ernst had already inflicted “serious wounds” to the chest and spine of an Iraqi asylum-seeker living in Lohfelden in a January 2016 knife attack that left the victim in intensive care.

At the time of his June 2019 arrest, the main suspect in Lübcke's killing held “several firearms and ammunition that he had acquired illegally”, prosecutors said, including three revolvers, two automatic pistols, two rifles, 1,400 rounds of ammunition and a submachine gun.

Arrested soon afterwards, H. was found to be in possession of a deactivated submachine gun.

After the arrests, Ernst had initially confessed to Lübcke's murder, but in January this year he retracted the admission and said H. had shot the politician.

But prosecutors remain convinced that while H. “accepted and supported” the danger Ernst posed, he “was not familiar with the actual plans for the attack”.

The killing was followed by an October attack on a synagogue in eastern city Halle that left two dead, while a gunman shot dead nine people of migrant backgrounds in central town Hanau in February.

READ ALSO: 'It doesn't change my feeling about Germany': Jewish community fearful but defiant after Halle attack

Perpetrators in both attacks posted racist screeds online, and Interior Minister Horst Seehofer has since declared far-right extremism the “biggest security threat facing Germany”, promising a beefed-up security response.

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New army scandal: Germany vows to punish soldiers caught singing anti-Semitic songs

Germany's Defence Minister on Tuesday vowed to severely punish soldiers stationed in Lithuania who were accused of singing racist and anti-Semitic songs, if the allegations turned out to be true.

New army scandal: Germany vows to punish soldiers caught singing anti-Semitic songs
German soldiers training in Saxony-Anhalt in May. credit: dpa-Zentralbild | Klaus-Dietmar Gabbert

“Whatever happened is in no way acceptable,” said Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer.

Those implicated would be “vigorously prosecuted and punished”, she added.

The Spiegel Online news site had on Monday reported that German soldiers in Lithuania sang racist and anti-Semitic songs during a party at a hotel in April.

One had also sought to sexually assault another soldier while he was asleep, a scene which was caught on film, said Spiegel.

According to Spiegel Online, the scenes took place at a party at which soldiers consumed large quantities of alcohol. They are also alleged to have arranged a “birthday table” for Adolf Hitler on April 20th and to have sung songs for him.

It is unclear to what extent more senior ranked soldiers were aware of the incidents.

Three soldiers have been removed from the contingent stationed in the Baltic country and an investigation is ongoing to identify other suspects, said the report.

The German armed forces have been repeatedly rocked by allegations of right-wing extremism within their ranks.

Kramp-Karrenbauer last year ordered the partial dissolution of the KSK commando force after revelations that some of its members harboured neo-Nazi sympathies.

SEE ALSO: Germany to compensate gay soldiers who faced discrimination