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Life Imprisonment for Halle Attacker

After a trial lasting more than five months, on December 21, 2020, the Halle attacker was sentenced to life imprisonment with subsequent preventive detention. With regard to the controversial acts against İsmet Tekin and Aftax Ibrahim, the court was unable to establish attempted murder. After the verdict, some representatives of the joint plaintiffs and their legal counsel held a press conference and declared their disappointment with the verdict.

The presiding judge Ursula Mertens began the last day of the Halle trial by reading out the verdict. The accused was sentenced to life imprisonment. He is accused of murder in 2 cases, attempted murder of 66 persons and other crimes. The court found him to be severely guilty and ordered him to be placed in preventive detention. There were no doubts about the accused’s culpability. In her explanation of the verdict, the presiding judge recalled the two murder victims, Jana L. and Kevin S. Jana L. had only lived to be 40 years old. She had had many friends, loved music and sang in a choir in Halle. Kevin S. had enjoyed soccer, had a loving home and had just started a new job that meant a lot to him. 

The attack on the synagogue is legally considered to be an attempted murder in 51 separate cases. Contrary to the defense’s presentation, the accused had immediately started to commit the crime. The court considered the attack on the kebab restaurant to be murder (of Kevin S.) and attempted murder in 4 cases. The throwing of the explosive device on the restaurant had already amounted to an attempted murder of all five visitors. The controversial acts against İsmet Tekin and Aftax Ibrahim are not recognized as attempted murders. Tekin, the owner of the restaurant, had been in the direct range of the exchange of fire between the police and the accused. His lawyer, Onur Özata, had requested that this also be assessed as attempted murder against Tekin. Federal prosecution and defense had denied an intention to kill – even a conditional one. Mertens addressed Tekin directly: “You too were in a storm of bullets, your life was in danger. You too are a victim of this attack.” In a legal sense, however, it could not be assumed that there was an intent to kill, since it could not be proven that the accused had known of Tekin’s presence and had aimed directly at him. Regarding the crime committed against Aftax Ibrahim, the presiding judge said that it could not be established that the accused had hit him deliberately and intentionally. A collision had not been in his interest, as it would have increased the risk of being caught. According to the principle of doubt, it could not be ruled out that the accused had taken it for granted that he would pass the track without any problems. The act is only assessed as negligent bodily injury.

In her justification of the verdict, the presiding judge gave a lot of space to the individual stories of the people involved. She named the antisemitic, racist and misogynistic motives of the attacker. Nevertheless, it remained questionable whether the court was able to grasp the political implications of the attack. The clear naming of motives was flattened in many parts, as Mertens ultimately broke down the attacker’s ideological motivations to general categories of “misanthropy.” Thus, the ideology of the attacker was removed from its social and historical context in the justification of the verdict. This tendency to individualize the ideological dimension was also noticeable in Merten’s reflections on the reasons for the accused’s radicalization. She spoke, for example, of the fact that he had not received any emotional education (Herzensbildung) and repeatedly referred to his role as an outsider who had sat alone in his childhood room.

On several occasions, it seemed as if the presiding judge was still trying to lecture the accused in her justification of the sentence by referring to the aggrieved persons with a history of migration who worked hard. This contrasting of the accused, who was living at the expense of his parents, against the hard-working, “new” members of society, seems strange in a twofold sense: Not only is the aim to educate the accused irritating, but it was also unclear what the “hard work” of the affected parties had to do with the severity of the accused’s guilt and the scope of the crime.

The hope to make the accused find his way back to the “right path” continued until the presiding judge’s closing words. She turned to the accused and told him that he would probably never live in freedom again – if he did not change his basic attitude.

Following the hearing, a press conference of some joint plaintiffs and their legal advisors took place near the court. Attorney Kristin Pietrzyk, representing two of the joint plaintiffs, sharply criticized the verdict. She called it “harmless, uncourageous and depoliticizing”. In their statements to the court, many joint plaintiffs had criticized the police’s treatment of the survivors and the subsequent investigative work. The fact that the presiding judge, in her statement on the verdict, had called on the victims to change their perspective with regard to their criticism of the security authorities was “the most cheeky thing she had ever heard from a state protection senate.”

Lawyer Ilil Friedman, who represented Aftax Ibrahim, made it clear that it was in no way comprehensible to her and her client that the car attack against him had not been assessed as another attempted racist murder. 

İsmet Tekin, the owner of the kebab restaurant, also said that the verdict had been a great disappointment for him. He thanked for the solidarity he had experienced. This had given him a lot of strength, he said. “We will not give up, no matter what the verdict, we will all give the best for this society and together we will do what is in our power to do.” 

Naomi H., who survived the attack on the synagogue, said in her statement that she was disappointed by many media reports. Together with other joint plaintiffs, she had repeatedly called for the perpetrator not to be given a stage. Again and again, this request was ignored. 

After 26 days of trial, in which more than 80 witnesses and experts were heard and more than 40 joint plaintiffs were involved, the main proceedings against the Halle attacker came to an end. The verdict is not yet final, as several joint plaintiffs and the defense announced that they would examine the possibility of an appeal.