Germany frees Iraqi suspect in killing that sparked racist attacks

A court in the eastern German city of Chemnitz on Tuesday freed an Iraqi man who had been held as the main suspect in a deadly stabbing that sparked xenophobic mob violence there last month.

Germany frees Iraqi suspect in killing that sparked racist attacks
A memorial laid out for the 35-year-old stabbing victim in Chemnitz, a German with Cuban origins. Photo: DPA

Police investigators found no forensic evidence or witnesses to link the 22-year-old asylum seeker, named by media only as Yousif Ibrahim A., to the fatal knife attack, prosecutors said.

Defence lawyer Ulrich Dost-Roxin charged that the arrest warrant and  detention order had been illegal, based on “a fantasy of the prosecutor” and “fake evidence” against his client, who had become a “political football”.

The court did however keep in custody another suspect, the Syrian Alaa S., 
23, over the attack on Daniel Hillig, a 35-year-old German man with Cuban 
roots, in the early hours of August 26.

Police were still searching with an international arrest warrant for an Iraqi man who was not publicly named.

News of the late-night killing had quickly spread via social media in Chemnitz and sparked protest marches that quickly escalated into racist mob violence.

Hours after the stabbing, mobs of mainly right-wing extremist football hooligans marched through the city and launched random street attacks against people they took to be foreigners, including an Afghan, a Syrian and a Bulgarian man.

A mass rally the next evening drew thousands of far-right protesters, some of whom gave the illegal Hitler salute and clashed with antifascist counter-protesters.

The state of Saxony, where Chemnitz is located, has been a stronghold of far-right parties and groups that bitterly oppose Chancellor Angela Merkel for her 2015 
decision to keep open German borders to a mass influx of migrants and refugees.

The atmosphere was further inflamed when the arrest warrant of Yousif A. 
was leaked by a prisons officer to extremist groups who then posted it online, 
spelling out the full names of the suspects, victim, eyewitnesses and the judge.

Security services in the state have come under fire for the alleged 
sympathies of some officers with movements like the anti-immigration 
Alternative for Germany (AfD) party and the anti-Islam street movement PEGIDA.

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5 things you should know about Chemnitz, the newly crowned capital of culture

The Saxonian city of Chemnitz was named European capital of culture for 2025 on Wednesday, meaning it beat off competition from Hanover, Nuremberg, Hildesheim and Magdeburg. Here are some fascinating facts about the city.

5 things you should know about Chemnitz, the newly crowned capital of culture
The Chemnitz town hall. Photo: DPA

City mayor Barbara Ludwig was clearly delighted by the surprise result, saying that “this will do the city so much good. What an amazing feeling.”

Chemnitz probably isn’t on many people’s radars. Here are five things that have marked the city's rocky history.

1. The Saxonian Manchester

The golden days for the city of Chemnitz came in the 19th century when it was one of the first German cities to embrace the revolutionary technology of steam power.

It won the moniker “Saxonian Manchester.” This nickname wasn’t just a reference to the manifold factory chimneys, it was also a comment on the poor air quality in its streets. Just like in the English town, textiles were a central pillar of the local economy.

The city was a hub of invention – six times more patents were registered than the German average. And as industry took off, so too did the population. Chemnitz achieved the status of a Großstadt in 1883 when its population topped 100,000.

2. It is the original home of Audi

The luxury car maker is normally associated with the city of Ingolstadt. But it was actually founded in Chemnitz in the 1930s when four major car companies of the time were united under one brand – Auto-Union (hence the four rings joined together.)

After the war, when the communist rulers in East Germany started seizing the wealth of private companies, the engineers at Auto-Union fled to Bavaria, bringing their know how with them. It was one of several such stories that still have an effect on employment in the city today.

3. A famous name change

The city cente in 1910 (right and 1977 (left). Photos: Wikipedia Commons 

Chemnitz was an important centre of military production during the war, with Auto-Union’s Siegmar factory being used to produce engines for the Wehmacht’s tanks. The allies flattened the city centre in the last few months of the conflict, leaving much of its historical architecture completely destroyed.

In 1953, the communist leadership of the GDR renamed the city Karl Marx Stadt, saying that the city deserved the honour due to its history of active political engagement among its proletariat. There is still a huge granite bust of the 19th century economist in the city centre.

The city that was rebuilt would have been barely recognisable to someone who grew up in Chemnitz in the late 19th century. The opulent Gründerzeit architecture was replaced by endless rows of Plattenbau.

The name was changed back to Chemnitz almost immediately after reunification when three quarters of the population voted in favour of the original name.

Photo: DPA

4. At the foot of the Erzgebirge

The history of Chemnitz isn't just rocky in the metaphorical sense, it has quite literally been influenced by the rock of the Ore mountains.

When we think of German cities with a mountain view the mind obviously springs to Munich. But Chemnitz is one of the few other Großstädte that sits at the foot of a mountain range.

From the city one can travel up into the Ore Mountains, which are largely untouched by tourism.

The thick forests and steep valleys make for some impressive views. As the name suggests the mountains are a rich vein of ore and contributed to the transformation of mining in the early modern era.

5. A neo-Nazi march

In recent history, Chemnitz is best know for a neo-Nazi march which took place there in 2018 after a local man was stabbed to death by a refugee.

There was local unrest over several days and neo-Nazis descended on the city where they also attacked migrants and gave the Hitler salute.

A mass concert in the aftermath with people coming from across the country to stand against right-wing extremism.

READ MORE: Chemnitz: Portrait of a city shaken by anti-foreigner riots