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Walter Lübcke: Right-wing extremist Stephan Ernst handed life sentence for murder of pro-migrant MP

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By Euronews and AFP
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Defendant Stephan Ernst, right, who is accused of murdering politician Walter Luebcke.
Defendant Stephan Ernst, right, who is accused of murdering politician Walter Luebcke.   -   Copyright  Thomas Lohnes/Pool Photo via AP
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A right-wing extremist was sentenced to life imprisonment by a court in Frankfurt on Thursday for the murder of a pro-migrant German politician.

The murder of Walter Lübcke, a regional MP of Angela Merkel's CDU party, in June 2019 raised the spectre of extreme right-wing terrorism in Germany.

"The murder conviction leaves no room for doubt as to the guilt" of Stephan Ernst, 47, the president of the Frankfurt court, Thomas Sagebiel, said when the verdict was handed down.

Prosecutors had requested a life sentence for Ernst for Lübcke's murder as well as for an "aggravated murder attempt" against an Iraqi refugee in 2016. He must serve at least 15 years of his sentence.

The trial is of historic significance as it is the first murder of a politician since 1945 attributed to a far-right sympathiser.

Addressing Lübcke's family, Sagebiel said: "We know that we can hardly measure your loss and that the trial was very painful for you. Our task was to conduct a fair procedure and to judge without taking into account personal interests".

On the night of June 2, 2019, Lübcke, a 65-year-old member of the Hesse state parliament for Chancellor's conservative CDU party, was smoking a cigarette on the terrace of his house in Kassel, Hesse, when he was shot in the head almost at close range.

After a two-week investigation, Ernst, who was close to the neo-Nazi movement, was arrested. He also accused an alleged accomplice, Markus Hartmann, who was also on trial which began on 16 June.

Hartmann was handed a suspended sentence of a year and a half for weapons possession.

As his alleged accomplice, Hartmann stood accused of having trained him to shoot in the forest, "including with the weapon used" for the murder, but claimed he wasn't "aware of [Ernst's] real plans".

The public prosecutor's office had requested a sentence of nine years and eight months' imprisonment against him, with his lawyers pleading acquittal.

Ernst has apologised to the victim's family for the "cruel and cowardly" murder but which had a "political objective," according to his lawyer.

The two suspects had, according to the prosecution, attended a public meeting together at which Lübcke had given his support to the open migration policy decided by Chancellor Angela Merkel.

More than one million refugees were welcomed into Germany between 2015 and 2016. In the wake of this, the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party made a triumphant entry into parliament becoming the third largest party in the Bundestag with 93 seats in the 2017 federal elections.

Ernst had been known to the authorities since the late 1980s as a neo-Nazi sympathiser with violent potential.

As early as 1993, he was suspected of having planned a bomb attack on an asylum seekers' home. In 2009, he took part in a race riot in Dortmund.

Despite this past, the intelligence services had stopped monitoring him in recent years.

The investigation revealed another mistake by the police, which has been frequently accused in the past of being sympathetic to neo-Nazis, in that they failed to report to the weapons licensing authority that the alleged accomplice was still an active member of the ultra-right.

This enabled her to obtain pistols and rifles.

The Hessian parliament, of which Lübcke was a member, will further investigate the failures of the investigation.

Lübcke's murder had highlighted the rise of "brown" terrorism in the country.

Underestimated in the 2000s by the authorities despite the murders at the time of eight Turkish immigrants, a Greek and a German policewoman by neo-Nazi group National Socialist Underground (NSU), the threat is now perceived as a crucial challenge to Germany's internal security.

In October 2019, an extreme right-wing sympathiser almost committed a terror attack on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur in a synagogue in Halle, before killing a passer-by and a man in a restaurant frequented by immigrants.

He was sentenced to life imprisonment in December.

In February 2020, a man also killed nine people of foreign origin in two bars in Hanau, near Frankfurt, before committing suicide.

Finally, on Wednesday, the German judiciary paved the way for the trial of an extreme right-wing sympathiser suspected of planning to attack elected representatives and Muslims.

At the same time, German politicians and Holocaust survivors warned of the resurgence of antisemitism in the country on the annual day of remembrance for the victims of Nazism.