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Trial starts over rape-murder of student that inflamed refugee debate

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Trial starts over rape-murder of student that inflamed refugee debate
A memorial in Freiburg for the woman who was raped and killed last October. Photo: DPA.
11:13 CEST+02:00
After a man who had come to Germany without papers was accused of raping and murdering a young woman in Freiburg last October, nationwide debate about the country's refugee policy came to the fore. The trial begins on Tuesday.

Hussein K. is accused of having raped and murdered a 19-year-old medical student on her bike ride home from a party in the middle of October last year in Freiburg.

The crime made headlines nationwide. His trial begins on Tuesday.

The proceedings have many open questions. Hussein K.'s country of origin is unknown, though he has said he comes from Afghanistan. He had also come to Germany without papers in 2015, stating that he was a minor.

"It is to be expected that the defendant's age will be a subject of evidence during the trial," said the head of the prosecutor's office in Freiburg, Dieter Inhofer.

The court is expected to settle whether Hussein K. will be prosecuted as a juvenile or an adult. According to statements he was 17 years old at the time of the crime. But age assessments reveal he may have been at least 21 years old.

He was arrested at the beginning of December, about seven weeks after the crime. His DNA was found at the crime scene and he was identified on CCTV.

A verdict on the case is expected in December.

Due to high public interest in the trial, more stringent security measures are planned, said a court spokesman.

Attempted murder in Greece

One of the most controversial aspects of the case is that Hussein K. had been sentenced to 10 years in jail in Greece in 2013 after he pushed a young woman off a cliff on the island of Corfu.

But at the end of October 2015 he was placed on parole with the requirement to report to police every month. Officials then lost trace of him two months after he was released.

He left Greece shortly after being placed on parole, but only a nationwide search was initiated by Greek authorities, not an international one. Neither Interpol nor the Schengen Information System (SIS) were alerted.

Interior Minister Thomas De Maizière said in December that if the Greeks had launched an international search, "the suspect could have been detected at various stages of the systematic checks made by German security authorities".

Greek media also slammed their country's security officials for their mishandling of the prison release programme and for failing to alert Interpol.

The Federation of German Criminal Police (BDK) called the situation a “blatant failure” on the part of Greek authorities. The fact that the data on the fugitive was not shared with the SIS meant that he was not identified by German police as a wanted criminal when he first applied for asylum in Germany.

Sparking refugee debate

Hussein K. applied for asylum in Freiburg when he arrived in Germany in November 2015. This was just a few months after the government opened its borders to refugees and during a time when tens of thousands of people were passing into the country each day.

The murder fuelled growing anti-immigration sentiment in the country. The Alternative for Germany (AfD) party and far-right Pegida group capitalized on it, blaming German Chancellor Angela Merkel for the crime and arguing it was the consequence of "uncontrolled migration."

But Foreign Affairs Minister Sigmar Gabriel warned against "incitement" as news of the refugee's arrest spread.

National broadcaster ARD were also in the spotlight at the time. According to Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, ARD failed to cover the crime and the arrest of Hussein K, despite the fact that other public broadcasters such as ZDF had done so.

Editor-in-chief at ARD Kai Gniffke defended the decision, arguing the broadcaster doesn't cover individual crime cases. 

The Freiburg rape-murder story was eventually reported under the regional news section on ARD's web page, Tagesschau.de. 

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