Muslim Wire

German ‘veil martyr’ trial to open

Posted in Politics, Society by muslimwire on October 26, 2009

by Deborah Cole

DRESDEN, Germany (AFP) – A man accused of killing a pregnant Egyptian woman in court in a frenzied anti-Islamic attack goes on trial in Germany Monday in a case that inflamed tempers throughout the Muslim world.

Prosecutors say the defendant, identified according to German legal practice only as Alex W., stabbed Marwa al-Sherbini at least 16 times in three minutes on July 1, in the same courthouse where his three-week trial will be held.

Some 200 police officers will guard the proceedings this time in the eastern city of Dresden, as German media reported Internet death threats against the defendant, who will appear in court behind bulletproof glass.

The 28-year-old Russian-born German allegedly plunged an 18-cm (seven-inch) kitchen knife into the chest, back and arm of Sherbini, 31, who was three months pregnant at the time with her second child.

She bled to death at the scene in the presence of her son Mustafa, aged three and a half at the time, in what prosecutors say in the charge sheet was a killing motivated by “a pronounced hatred of non-Europeans and Muslims”.

Egyptian media quickly dubbed her “the veil martyr”. The accused is also charged with attempting to kill her husband, Elwy Okaz, who tried to come to her aid.

Court psychiatric experts say they found no evidence of diminished responsibility.

The Egyptian government Sunday demanded the maximum sentence for Alex W., which is life in prison under German law — the penalty prosecutors are seeking.

Sherbini’s family will appear in Dresden as co-plaintiffs, represented by lawyers hired by Cairo, the foreign ministry said, adding that it was “confident in the German justice system’s impartiality”.

The shocking attack, and a slow reaction by the German media and political class, left the country open to accusations of neglectful handling of hate crimes against Muslims.

Berlin moved to deflect criticism, with Chancellor Angela Merkel expressing her condolences to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on the sidelines of the Group of Eight summit later that month. Thousands rallied in Dresden in Sherbini’s memory.

“Many people in and outside Germany are looking to Dresden and hoping to see this murder punished,” said Nabil Yacoub of the Dresden Immigrants Council.

The case triggered anti-German protests in Egypt and Iran and sparked fears of an escalation on the scale of the bloody riots touched off by the publication in Europe of caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed in 2005.

Sherbini and Alex W. met in August 2008, when she asked him to clear a playground swing where he sat smoking a cigarette so Mustafa could use it. He refused, calling Sherbini an “Islamist”, a “terrorist” and a “whore”.

She pressed charges for defamation and he was fined 780 euros (1,170 dollars). His appeal against the conviction brought them together again in July.

After Sherbini testified and left the witness stand, he allegedly pulled the knife he had smuggled into the courtroom and stabbed her and then Okaz, who was shot in the leg by a confused guard who apparently took him for the attacker.

Sherbini worked as a pharmacist while her husband was a geneticist working on his doctorate in Dresden.

Alex W., who arrived in Germany from Perm in the Urals in 2003, was on the dole and reportedly struggled with bouts of depression.

On Sunday, the Dresden Culture and Educational Centre, which now bears Sherbini’s name, held a memorial in her honour calling for “respectful treatment of differing social groups”.

A verdict is expected November 11.

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