AFP Wiesbaden, Germany
Mar 12, 2019, 11.08 PM
An Iraqi man confessed in a German court Tuesday to the murder of a teenage girl but denied raping her in a case that inflamed anti-immigrant tensions last year.
"My vision went black and then it happened," Ali Bashar, 22, testified through an interpreter. "I don't know how it could have happened."
His trial for the rape and murder of 14-year-old schoolgirl Susanna Maria Feldman started Tuesday under tight security in Wiesbaden, the city where the killing took place.
Bashar denied the rape charge, claiming that he and the girl, who had known each other for several months, had consensual sex before she fell, got angry and threatened to call the police.
For the murder alone, Bashar faces a likely life prison term, which in Germany usually translates to 15 years behind bars.
To Germany's far right, Bashar, who is also accused of twice raping an 11-year-old girl, has become a symbol of the threat allegedly posed by a wave of mostly Middle Eastern newcomers.
Several dozen protesters outside the court displayed a sign reading "No Leniency for Muslims" and a washing line with articles listing violent crimes allegedly committed by immigrants.
One of the activists, Robert Emil Vogelmann, told AFP that the group had collated more than 250 articles and police reports over the past year and charged that this was "just the tip of the iceberg".
Before the trial, the anti-Islam Alternative for Germany (AfD) party again blamed Chancellor Angela Merkel's grand coalition or "GroKo" government for Susanna's death.
"The problem isn't 'the right' but the knife-man immigration caused by the GroKo that has caused ever more bloody crimes," the party wrote in a Facebook post.
Several regional AfD lawmakers tried to attend the court hearing but were denied entry because there were no open seats left.
The AfD became the biggest opposition party when it entered parliament in 2017, riding a wave of public anger over sexual assaults and other violent crimes committed by some recent migrants.
In another case last year, the fatal stabbing of a German man in the eastern city of Chemnitz, allegedly by immigrants, sparked outbursts of mob violence in which far-right extremists hunted people of foreign appearance through the streets.
Bashar, along with his parents and five siblings, first arrived in Germany in 2015, the peak year of the influx which would bring more than one million people to Europe's biggest economy.
His request for asylum was rejected in December 2016, but -- in a case critics label as symptomatic of an overwhelmed system -- he obtained a temporary residence permit pending his appeal.
Merkel later conceded that "the case shows how important it is that people who don't have residency rights quickly face a court and can be speedily sent back home".
In May last year, Bashar allegedly beat, raped and strangled Susanna to death in a wooded area near his refugee shelter.
Her body was then buried in a shallow grave covered with leaves, twigs and soil, near railway tracks.
Prosecutors said Bashar then sent false messages from Susanna's smartphone to her parents, indicating she had left for an impromptu trip to Paris.
When her remains were found two weeks later, Bashar and his family had left Germany for Arbil, northern Iraq.
He was however arrested by Kurdish security forces and, despite the absence of a formal extradition treaty between Baghdad and Berlin, taken back to Germany.
In a controversial operation personally joined by federal police chief Dieter Romann, Bashar was put on a flight back to Germany, with pictures of him disembarking under heavy police guard making front pages.
Bashar also faces charges for a park robbery in which he allegedly beat and strangled a man and threatened him with a knife.
He faces a separate trial from March 19, accused of having twice raped an 11-year-old girl, who was believed to have also been sexually assaulted by an Afghan youth as well as Bashar's younger brother.
Several dozen protesters outside the court displayed a sign reading 'No Leniency for Muslims' and a washing line with articles listing violent crimes allegedly committed by immigrants.