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Syrian Is Convicted in Stabbing Death That Set Off Riots in Germany

BERLIN — A German court convicted a Syrian asylum seeker of manslaughter on Thursday over a stabbing last year that touched off nationalist and neo-Nazi rioting in the eastern city of Chemnitz and revealed the strength of an anti-immigrant backlash.

The Chemnitz state court found the Syrian man, identified only as Alaa S. in keeping with privacy laws, guilty of manslaughter and dangerous bodily harm for his role in the death of a German man, Daniel Hillig, last Aug. 26. He was sentenced to nine years and six months in prison; prosecutors had sought a 10-year term. The trial was held in the city of Dresden for security reasons.

Defense lawyers said they would appeal the ruling.

A second suspect, an Iraqi man identified only as Fahrad A. whose DNA was found on the knife used in the killing, is being sought on an international arrest warrant. A third man, also Iraqi, was initially detained but later released for lack of evidence.

Alaa S. denied participating in the killing, saying that he had left a nearby kebab shop only after he heard shouting outside, and was then immediately detained by the police. “I can only hope that the truth will be brought to light and a fair verdict will be reached,” he told the court in his final remarks before the sentence was read out.

His defense lawyers pointed to weaknesses in the prosecutors’ case, including the absence of his DNA on the weapon and confusing, at times contradictory, testimony from the prosecution’s main witness, a man who said he had observed what happened from a window about 150 yards away.

ImageCreditOdd Andersen/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

One of Alaa S.’s lawyers, Ricarda Lang, said the pressure on everyone involved in the trial was enormous, given the politics surrounding the case. “Someone needs to be found guilty, so calm can return to Chemnitz,” she told reporters, according to MDR, a regional public broadcaster.

After the killing, crowds of thousands of people, led by several hundred identifiable neo-Nazis, rampaged through Chemnitz, waving German flags and some flashing Nazi salutes. The angry display brought the growing strength of the far right to the forefront of the political debate, more than seven decades after the Allied defeat of the Nazis.

A clash over whether protesters had chased immigrants ultimately led to the dismissal of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s intelligence chief, Hans-Georg Maassen, after he challenged her assessment of the situation.

Mr. Maassen had questioned the authenticity of a video showing an immigrant being chased by far-right protesters. The rift with Ms. Merkel raised questions about whether he was too sympathetic to the far right, and in the ensuing power struggle he was removed from office last September.

At the height of Europe’s refugee crisis in 2015, Ms. Merkel opened Germany’s borders to hundreds of thousands of asylum-seekers, many fleeing war in Syria. But questions about assimilation and the amount of money the government spent on the project have sparked a backlash against her policies, especially in the less-prosperous eastern part of Germany.

In announcing her ruling in the case, the presiding judge, Simone Herberger, said the decision had not been influenced by the political events that surrounded the killing. She then turned to the victim’s mother and daughter, who were in the courtroom, and said, “I hope that for you that justice will bring peace,” the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper reported.

As the trial opened in March, the mayor of Chemnitz, Barbara Ludwig, had expressed hope that there would be a conviction “so that the family can find peace,” the Taz newspaper reported at the time. “An acquittal would be difficult for Chemnitz,” the mayor said.


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