Over the weekend Dieter Romann, head of the Federal Police, flew to northern Iraq with several elite anti-terror officers in tow and took custody of Ali B., the main suspect in a brutal rape-murder investigation in Hesse.
Authorities in the autonomous northern region of the country arrested B. and then handed him over to Romann, who flew him back to Germany. Back in Hesse Ali B. admitted to investigators that he had murdered 14-year-old Susanna F. over two weeks previously.
The murder of Susanna F. at the hands of a man who arrived during the refugee influx of 2015 was itself enough to ignite the tinder dry debate on refugees and crime in Germany. But the fact that Ali B. was able to escape to Iraq along with his family, despite being a suspect, proved to be a major embarrassment for German authorities and led critics to charge that the country’s asylum policies were in a state of total chaos.
To an extent, the dramatic arrest of Ali B. and his swift deportation to Germany, quelled the rising flames of unrest. But the dubious legality of young man’s seizure thousands of kilometres outside of the jurisdiction of the German police has raised legal questions which are proving to be a headache for the government.
Initially, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer's press secretary attempted to deny that the minister had any knowledge of the handover in northern Iraq. But the Federal Police issued a statement of its own noting that it had constantly updated Seehofer on the operation. On Tuesday, Seehofer's state secretary had to admit that he was “ill informed” when he claimed that his boss had no knowledge of the operation.
Why Seehofer was reluctant to say that he knew about the arrest became clear on Tuesday evening, when federal prosecutors confirmed that a top lawyer had filed a complaint against Romann on the accusation that the arrest was tantamount to false imprisonment.
Lawyer Daniel Sprafke filed the complaint of false imprisonment, arguing that Germany never issued an international arrest warrant for Ali B. nor did they attempt to have him deported through the normal channels.
“In my view, this action by the authorities was unacceptable. One shouldn’t tolerate it,” Sprafke told Spiegel Online.
The controversy also took on an international dimension on Wednesday when the Iraqi central government in Baghdad claimed the arrest had been carried out illegally.
The Iraqi Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying that it had not given its approval to the deportation.
The statement pointed out that Iraq had no agreement with Germany on deportations and that any such hand over would have to be approved by the central government first.
Germany's Interior Ministry has rejected the accusation that the arrest was in any way untoward.
A spokeswoman has told Spiegel that “the German court that decided on the continued detention [of Ali B.] yesterday did not make any objection [to the manner of his arrest].”