On 4 November 2020, the 19th day of the Halle trial, expert witness Karolin Schwarz and Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) official Sebastian E. testified regarding the public perception of the attack and the online distribution of the video of the crime as well as the files found on the accused’s laptop and data storage devices. In the afternoon, three attorneys of the joint-plaintiffs requested that the court give the accused the mandatory legal advice that the attacks against their respective clients to be considered attempted murders.
Karolin Schwarz, an expert on right-wing extremism who had been invited as an expert witness, had observed and documented the reception of the Halle attack online as well as the distribution of the live stream and the uploaded files on the day of the crime and on the following days. Schwarz reported that shortly after the news about the crime broke on 9 October 2019, she began to search the relevant image boards for postings about the attack. At around 1 pm, she found the first pictures of the attacker on the German-language Kohlchan image board. She quickly became aware of the right-wing extremist background of the crime. Together with a colleague, she started to create screenshots of the postings, thus recording the course of the discussion in various image boards. Around 5 pm, she found the link to the video of the crime and reported it to the Federal Criminal Police Office (LKA). She was told that they already had knowledge of the video.
Schwarz showed her screenshots of the image boards and chat groups in the courtroom, elaborated on them and interpreted the texts and memes. In addition to Kohlchan, she had followed the reception on the Imageboard 4chan, the right-wing extremist Animeforum Meguca and in various telegram groups. Initially, the postings had contained many speculations about the exact course of events and its background. For example, it was assumed that it was an Islamist attack. When it became clear that the attacker had a right-wing extremist motive, the comments changed: Schwarz categorized them into the categories “glorification of the act and the attacker”, ” mockery/jokes for the attacker” and “distancing from positive reception to protect the image boards”. There was agreement within the community that the execution of the attack had not been successful, but some users had appreciated the attempt. Posts mostly contained racist, antisemitic and antifeminist statements, and the victims of the attack were mocked. The attacker, too, had been partly mocked for his failure, for example with memes. The anonymous users showed efforts to protect the image boards from possible government sanctions such as deletion. For example, postings were addressed directly to presumably co-reading police officers: “Hello dear police, everything I ever posted was just a joke”. The video of the live-stream as well as the uploaded documents of the accused had also been shared time and again. In part, the video of the crime and the language used by the accused had been utilised to suggest that Kohlchan was particularly active. Some users had even made connections to earlier posts in which an attack had been hinted, and which had been signed with S. B., the initials of the accused. Schwarz had found the post announcing the crime, which could actually be attributed to the accused in the Meguca forum. Schwarz explained that the public had been actively involved in the crime itself. They had received some “PR package” from the perpetrator that they should distribute online. This was characteristic for acts like this.
In response to questions from the side prosecutors, Schwarz explained that it was very difficult and probably not effective to switch off or ban image boards. The users would quickly switch to other sites.
The tracing of individual posts is only difficult with image boards, since the users do not have to register for their posts and the operators usually do not cooperate with investigating authorities. Therefore, no reliable statements can be made regarding how many people use the relevant image boards. Beside the extreme right-wing political threads, there are also more non-political topics that the group of image board users exchange information about. For example, they talk, often in an “insider vocabulary”, about their own social status, pornography and mental illness.
The second witness on the 19th day of the trial was BKA investigator Sebastian E., who examined the files that were on the accused’s laptop, USB stick and hard drive. He said that he had found mostly extreme right-wing, antifeminist, antisemitic, violence and war glorifying contents.
In addition to anime pictures and right-wing extremist music, execution videos of the IS and Hamas were also found on the storage devices. These had been “disturbing”. Likewise, the accused had stored a video of the Nuclear Weapons Division which glorified violence. The witness did not know whether the BKA had observed the image boards on the day of the crime and stored the course of events.
Subsequently, a short mobile phone video of a resident of Humboldtstraße was viewed, which showed the shooting of Jana L. by the accused.
In the afternoon, the lawyer Ilil Friedman requested that the court give the accused the necessary legal advice that the car attack against her client Aftax Ibrahim could be considered attempted murder. Paragraph 265 of the Code of Criminal Procedure provides that an accused person may only be convicted of the charges listed in the legal bill of indictment if he has received prior notice that the facts of the case or their assessment have changed. Aftax Ibrahim was hit by the accused’s car in Halle on October 9. In the indictment, the Chief Federal Prosecutor had merely assessed this as negligent bodily injury. Based on the evidence gathered in the main trial, however, Ibrahim’s lawyer Friedman was convinced that the accused had tried to murder Ibrahim because of racist motives. This was evident from various witness statements as well as from the accused’s testimony. The accused’s choice of music also suggests that he was preparing himself for a murder attempt with his car. The live video of the crime shows that the accused had listened to a song which refers positively to a right-wing assassin who killed ten people with his van in Toronto. The accused was to be given the notice that his deed could also be assessed as attempted murder for low motives, with means dangerous to the public and to enable another crime to be committed. In a brief statement, the Office of the Federal Public Prosecutor argued for a rejection of this request. The hearing of evidence had not revealed any facts that would change their assessment of what had happened. A further statement would be read out in the closing statement.
The request of the co-court representative Kristin Pietrzyk to summon the right-wing extremism researcher Dr Matthias Quent as an expert witness was rejected by the presiding judge Mertens, as was the request to hear Mick Prinz from the Amadeu Antonio Foundation as an expert witness on the gaming behaviour of the accused. She did not see how information relevant to the proceedings could be obtained in such a case.
Defence attorney Hans-Dieter Weber subsequently requested that the main hearing be suspended for at least three weeks because the situation had changed as a result of Ilil Friedman’s motion. The presiding judge, Ms. Mertens, said that she saw no chance of success for this request, but wanted to make a decision in peace and quiet and asked for comments from the parties to the proceedings by 16 November 2020.
Subsequently, the lawyers Onur Özata and Peer Stolle also applied for legal warnings that the shootings aimed at their clients İsmet Tekin and Conrad R. at the crime scene of the kebab restaurant could be considered attempted murders. As the hearing of evidence had shown, the accused had fired at the window of the kebab restaurant behind which Conrad R. was located, and had also fired at İsmet Tekins in front of the restaurant. In both cases the Federal Prosecutor’s Office did not assume attempted murder according to the indictment.
The trial will continue on November 17, 2020. The presiding judge Mertens announced that on that day, the OLG will decide regarding the petitions filed as well as on the defence’s motion for suspension.