Anti-Foreigner Attack Kills 3 in Germany
In one of the worst-ever assaults against foreigners in modern Germany, a 51-year-old Turkish woman and two Turkish girls, ages 10 and 14, died in an arson attack early Monday, and police said right-wing extremists claimed responsibility for the deaths.
At least nine others were injured, including a 9-month-old baby.
If investigations substantiate the claims--made in a telephone call to police shortly after the first of two apartment houses in the small north German town of Moelln were set ablaze--it would constitute the single highest death toll of any incident since the wave of right-wing attacks against foreigners first erupted in Germany last year.
Authorities in Moelln, about 30 miles east of Hamburg, said they received an anonymous call shortly after midnight stating that an apartment building in the city’s center, where several foreign families lived, was on fire. They said the caller ended his message with the words, “Heil Hitler.”
Because of the reference to Hitler, the federal prosecutor’s office immediately took over the case, on grounds that the attack constituted a threat to the national security.
“This indicates that the unknown attackers want to re-establish a National Socialist dictatorship in Germany,” declared Federal Prosecutor Alexander von Stahl.
The incident stunned residents of the sleepy town, sent new shock waves through an anxious nation already worried about the threat of political extremism to its democracy and generated a string of official condemnations and calls for action.
In Moelln, a man identified as Faruk Arslan reportedly told police that the victims were his mother, his daughter and a niece visiting from Turkey.
The Associated Press reported that the woman was named Bahide Arslan and said she was the matriarch of a sprawling Turkish family well known in Moelln. Arslan, 51, died as she lay atop a grandson, protecting him from smoke and flames, the AP said, identifying the dead children as her granddaughter Yeliz Arslan, 10, and Ayse Yilmaz, 14, a visiting relative from Turkey.
To protest the attack, several thousand people marched quietly in Berlin and Hamburg on Monday night. In the town of Moelln itself, Joachim Doerfler, the mayor, headed a silent procession of several hundred residents.
“The culprits from Moelln and other extremists show us in all urgency the need to do something,” said Germany’s president, Richard von Weizsaecker, in a prepared statement. “The state and its citizens are called upon to stand up to this violence.”
Weizsaecker, one of the very few German political figures who frequently and openly has shown sympathy for victims of the attacks, was himself the victim of left-wing extremists earlier this month. He was pelted with eggs, fruit and rocks as he addressed a massive rally in Berlin to protest the outbreak of xenophobia in Germany.
“It’s a disgrace--I can’t think of any other way to express it,” Chancellor Helmut Kohl said. “For every upstanding, law-abiding person in Germany, it is a shocking act.”
Other than trying to stem the flood of foreigners attempting to take advantage of Germany’s liberal law on political asylum to begin a new life here, the country’s politicians have, so far, seemed powerless in their efforts to halt the violence.
Despite the increased frequency of the incidents, chief government spokesman Dieter Vogel said German law enforcement authorities have uncovered no evidence so far that either Monday’s attack or any other incident carried out by mainly young Germans professing extreme right-wing political views were linked to a centrally controlled organization. “The evidence is that these are always spontaneous acts,” he said.
Federal authorities report that more than 1,800 violent incidents have been carried out so far this year by right-wing extremists, compared with 270 for the entire year of 1990.
Monday’s victims brought the number of those known to have died at the hands of right-wing extremists so far this year to 15.
A 27-year-old left-wing radical was stabbed to death in Berlin on Saturday after a series of street fights in the capital between left- and right-wing extremist groups.
But Monday’s incident differed in many ways from a majority of the other attacks.
Although the town of Moelln, like most German communities, now counts a number of asylum seekers among its residents, the victims of Monday’s attack were from a long-established community of Turkish workers, who first began arriving in the early 1960s to work at a local foundry.
In a telephone interview, Moelln Mayor Doerfler said the 650 Turks who reside in the town of about 17,700 were “fully integrated into the community. . . . Many of them are children of children who were born here. Until today, the mood in the town was good, and they (Turkish residents) said themselves that they had not felt any threat.”
Doerfler said that Yeliz Arslan, the 10-year-old victim, was born in town and until last year was a classmate of his son; Bahide Arslan, the grandmother, had lived in Moelln for at least 15 years.
The Arslan family reportedly ran a small restaurant on the main street of Moelln and worked at a variety of local jobs. Wolfgang Stapelfeldt, 41, has employed many family members--including Bahide Arslan--at his clothing recycling business outside town. “She was a wise woman, very commanding. Everybody called her Mama,” said a tearful Stapelfeldt.
More than 1.8 million Turks live in Germany. They first began arriving in 1961 as “guest workers” to help ease a manpower shortage that then was hampering West Germany’s economic recovery from World War II.
Doerfler said he believes that outsiders may have taken part in the attack but that some townspeople had to be involved because the houses attacked would not have been easily identifiable to strangers as places where foreigners lived. “This town is not ghetto-ized,” he said. “Foreigners live just about everywhere.”
Although he described the mood in the town as good, he said that two months ago, a small corn silo attached to a local hotel was burned in an arson attack believed to be directed at foreigners; graffiti declaring, “foreigners out” also has appeared on a wall near the city center.
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