German arrested over deadly 1991 attack on asylum seekers
BERLIN (AFP) - Three decades on, German police on Monday arrested a far-right suspect over a deadly arson attack on asylum seekers, during a wave of neo-Nazi violence after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The alleged assailant, identified only as Peter S., was detained in the western state of Saarland on charges of murder, attempted murder and arson with fatal consequences, the federal prosecutor's office said in a statement.
Peter S. is believed to have entered a shelter for asylum seekers in the state capital Saarlouis in the early hours of September 19, 1991, amid an extended rash of xenophobic attacks following the reunification of Germany.
He allegedly poured petrol and started a fire, prompted "by his racist and right-wing extremist views".
The blaze spread rapidly up the stairs and trapped a 27-year-old asylum seeker from Ghana, Samuel Yeboah, in the attic. Yeboah died of severe burns and smoke inhalation the same day.
Two other residents managed to save their lives by jumping out of the window, suffering broken bones from their falls. The remaining 18 occupants were not hurt.
Prosecutors said that before the arson attack, Peter S. had sat with other members of the far-right scene in a bar, discussing racist riots in the eastern town of Hoyerswerda that had begun days before.
"Participants in the conversation made clear that they would approve of carrying out attacks in Saarlouis as well," prosecutors said.
Investigators believe that after the bar closed, Peter S. went directly to the shelter and started the fire.
In the 31 years since Yeboah's death, left-wing activists had repeatedly called for the attack to be recognised as a political crime and for federal prosecutors to take over the probe.
A further wave of right-wing violence after the 2015 refugee influx increased pressure on German authorities to take a tougher stance on extremist crime.
Rampant neo-Nazi violence:
For nearly a week in September 1991, Hoyerswerda was the scene of assaults on refugees and foreign contract workers, including a petrol bomb attack on a block of flats housing asylum seekers.
More than 30 people were hurt in the course of the riots, which drew global headlines.
The following year, jeering crowds in the city of Rostock applauded hundreds of right-wing extremists as they threw stones and Molotov cocktails at a building housing asylum seekers.
In November 1992, in the northern town of Moelln, two right-wing militants launched arson attacks against the homes of two Turkish families in which a woman and two girls died.
And in 1993, far-right skinheads set fire to the house of a large Turkish family in the western city of Solingen, killing three girls and two women.
Der Spiegel magazine reported on its website that Peter S. was born in 1971 in Sarrelouis near the French border and was a well-known leading figure on the local neo-Nazi scene.
It quoted investigators as saying that he took part in a far-right demonstration in 1996 attended by two members of the NSU terrorist cell, which was behind a series of racist murders.
He was reportedly long considered a suspect in the arson case and his home and workplace were searched in January 2021. But he was never detained due to lack of evidence.
Federal prosecutors, who probe political crimes, only took over the investigation two years ago, after state authorities closed the case without charging a suspect.
They said on Monday "new findings" had led to the case being reopened, based on "strong evidence" of a far-right and racist motive.
Peter S. was to appear before a judge later on Monday to determine whether he will be remanded in custody.