The man accused of attempted murder in a bomb attack on a Dusseldorf railway station in 2000 targeting a Jewish group was found not guilty by a German court yesterday, which ruled that there was insufficient evidence to convict him.
Ralf Spies, 52, was cleared of 12 counts of attempted murder with a "racist" motive and a charge of causing an explosion in the attack at a commuter rail station in the western city of Duesseldorf on July 27, 2000. The regional court in the city found him not guilty, after having released him from custody in May "for lack of sufficiently reliable testimony" from witnesses, many of whom were in prison with the defendant.
The victims were on their way back from a German language course when the explosive, hung in a plastic bag on a fence near the Wehrhahn station entrance, went off, sparking panic. Ten eastern European migrants, six of them Jews from the former Soviet Union, were injured in the bombing, which shocked Germany and drew international condemnation. A 26-year-old Ukrainian pregnant woman lost her unborn child and had to undergo emergency surgery after the blast ripped off one of her feet. Her 28-year-old husband suffered wounds over his entire body from metal fragments unleashed in the explosion and was in critical condition for several days.
Chief prosecutor Ralf Herrenbrueck, who had called for a life sentence for Spies, expressed outrage in closing arguments last week that the case appeared to be unraveling. Spies "felt called upon to keep his neighborhood ‘clean'. He wanted to get rid of everything he hated," Herrenbrueck told the court.
Four lawyers representing the victims of the blast pointed to wiretapped telephone calls in which Spies appeared to boast about his involvement in the attack. They had urged presiding judge Rainer Drees to convict Spies, citing a preponderance of evidence.
But as it became clear that the trial was heading toward an acquittal, co-plaintiff attorney Juri Rogner said in final arguments that the court was on the verge of "committing the worst legal mistake in the history of Duesseldorf."
The defendant was known to police as a right-wing extremist and ran a military surplus store near the scene of the crime. Investigators say the former soldier has a swastika and a well-known Nazi fortress tattooed on his body.
The investigation, long dormant, was only revived in 2011, after a series of 10 murders by a band of neo-Nazis known as the National Socialist Underground (NSU). While no link was established between the NSU's killings and the Duesseldorf bombing, they spurred investigators to take the extremist threat more seriously. The far-right NSU murdered eight Turks, one Greek and a female German police officer between 2000 and 2007. Despite its links to many gangs in Germany's neo-Nazi scene, the NSU apparently went unnoticed for years, from the late 1990s to 2011. The discovery of the NSU shed light on how police, either deliberately or mistakenly, blamed domestic disputes in the Turkish community for the murders.
In a verdict likely to anger the families of victims, a German court ordered earlier this month the release of Ralf Wohlleben, who was convicted of aiding NSU. Wohlleben was sentenced to 10 years in prison by a Munich court for supplying the pistol used in the NSU's murders of eight Turks and a Greek man, mainly for racist motives. Alongside Wohlleben, the NSU's only surviving member Beate Zschaepe was sentenced to life. The unsatisfying conclusion of the trial has drawn reactions from Turkey, families of victims and a number of German lawmakers.
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