Iraqi faces German court in 'Susanna' rape-murder case


Wiesbaden (Germany) (AFP)

An Iraqi man went on trial in Germany Tuesday accused of the rape and murder of a teenage girl that inflamed anti-immigrant tensions amid a mass influx of asylum seekers.

The accused, Ali Bashar, 22, left Germany for northern Iraq shortly after the May 2018 crime but was arrested and brought back in a mission joined personally by Germany's federal police chief.

Bashar's trial for the rape and murder of 14-year-old schoolgirl Susanna Maria Feldman started under tight security in Wiesbaden, the city where the killing took place. Around a dozen people held a vigil for the victim outside the courthouse.

Bashar has admitted the killing to police interrogators but denied the rape, meaning he already 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 raping an 11-year-old girl in a separate case, has become a symbol of the threat allegedly posed by the wave of mostly Middle Eastern newcomers.

Before the trial, the anti-Islam Alternative for Germany (AfD) party again blamed Chancellor Angela Merkel and her 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.

The AfD became the biggest opposition party when it entered parliament in late 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.

- Shallow grave -

Bashar, along with his parents and five siblings, first arrived in Germany in 2015, the year that saw the peak of the migrant 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 and dysfunctional system -- he obtained a temporary residence permit pending his appeal.

Merkel later conceded in a TV interview 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 in Wiesbaden.

Her body was then buried in a shallow grave covered with leaves, twigs and soil, near railway tracks.

When her remains were found two weeks later, Bashar and his family had left Germany for Arbil, northern Iraq.

However, he was arrested by Kurdish security forces and, despite the absence of a formal extradition treaty between Iraq and Germany, 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, strangled and threatened a man with a knife to steal his watch, bag, phone and bank card.

He faces a separate trial from March 19, accused of having twice raped an 11-year-old girl -- once in April 2018 after locking her in his room, and again near a supermarket carpark the following month.

Prosecutors have also laid charges against an Afghan youth who was living in the same refugee shelter, Mansoor Q., who was believed to be aged at least 14 at the time, also for the rape of the 11-year-old girl.

Prosecutors have said Bashar's younger brother -- who is believed to be in Iraq, according to media reports -- also took part in a sexual assault against the younger girl.