Alex Wiens, 28, his face covered by a hood and his eyes hidden behind dark glasses, was motionless as the court in the eastern German city of Dresden found him guilty of murdering Marwa El-Sherbini, dubbed the “veil martyr.”
On July 1, in the same courthouse, Wiens had plunged an 18-centimetre kitchen knife at least 16 times into Sherbini, 31 and three-months pregnant at the time. Her son, three-year-old Mustafa, watched her bleed to death at the scene.
Sherbini’s husband, Egyptian geneticist Elwy Okaz, rushed to her aid but was also stabbed repeatedly and then shot in the leg by a guard who apparently mistook him for the attacker.
Wiens, surrounded by four security guards as the verdict was read, was also found guilty of attempted murder and causing bodily harm for his attack on Sherbini’s husband.
“He killed Marwa not of dread or fear but out of revenge,” Judge Birgit Wiegand said. “He deliberately profited from her innocence and her defencelessness.”
The killing, as well as a slow reaction from Germany’s politicians and media, sparked outrage in Sherbini’s home country, as well as in the wider Muslim world.
The Egyptian ambassador to Germany, Ramzy Ezzeldin Ramzy, welcomed the verdict on Wednesday.
“The judgement says it all. The right sentence was delivered today and justice has been honoured,” he said. “Getting the maximum possible sentence, I think that itself says a lot. I think that should satisfy the family and the people.”
On crutches, unsure if he will ever walk again, Okaz gave wrenching testimony during the trial, telling the court how Mustafa, who now lives with family in Egypt, misses his mother.
The trial centred around Wiens’ motives for the murder and whether he was fully in control of his faculties at the time.
Prosecutors said he was driven by “an unbridled hatred of foreigners.” In a statement read by his lawyer, Wiens admitted being hostile to foreigners but denied this was the motive for the attack.
In a dramatic last-minute twist, a document suddenly arrived from Russia showing that Wiens had been declared unfit for military service in 2001 because of an “undifferentiated schizophrenia.”
Defence lawyers said that the stabbing had not been premeditated, that Wiens always carried a knife in his backpack, and that his psychiatric condition mitigated the crime.
The courthouse, so lightly guarded when the murder took place, now resembled a maximum security prison, with some 200 police officers and snipers on hand following death threats against Wiens, who was shielded by bulletproof glass.
The first fateful meeting of Wiens and Sherbini occurred in August 2008 in a playground. Sherbini asked Wiens to vacate a swing so her son could use it but this harmless request was met with a torrent of Islamophobic abuse.
Wiens called her a “terrorist”, “Islamist” and “whore.” She pressed charges for verbal abuse and he was fined €780. But he appealed the conviction, bringing them together again on July 1, 2009 – a day that ended in tragedy.
Outside the courtroom, around 200 people, most of them Muslims, staged a demonstration calling for the government to do more to counter racism, particularly on the internet.
“History, which we Germans should have learned better than anyone, has shown us where propaganda aimed against religious minorities can lead,” said Muhamed Ciftci, a spokesman for the organisers.