German court told of 'shame' at arson deaths

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The Independent Online
'I AM infinitely ashamed for what we did,' 24-year-old Markus Gartmann told the packed court in Dusseldorf yesterday. Mr Gartmann is one of four German youths who went on trial yesterday, accused of the worst single act of racist violence that united Germany has seen - the murder of five Turkish girls and women in a fire-bombing in the town of Solingen last year.

Despite the apparent clarity of Mr Gartmann's confession, however, the outcome of the trial remains uncertain. Two of the other accused deny all involvement in the arson. A third has admitted being involved, but his confessions have been contradictory.

Eight surviving members of the Genc family were in court yesterday. Those who died, in the early hours of 29 May, were four-year-old Saime Genc, her nine-year-old sister, Hulya, 12- year-old Gulustan Ozturk, 18- year-old Hatice Genc, and 27- year-old Gursun Ince, who died when she jumped from a window, together with her baby, to escape the flames.

The horror of that night shocked Germany, where the arson deaths of three Turks in the north German town of Molln, six months earlier, had led to candle-lit marches attended by hundreds of thousands nationwide.

The four accused, aged between 16 and 24, are charged with murder, attempted murder, and aggravated arson. Mr Gartmann yesterday described how he had met two of the other accused, Christian B and Felix K, and had spent the afternoon drinking with them. Late that evening, they had got into a fight with two men who they believed to be Turks. When he came to describing how they set fire to the house itself, Mr Gartmann stammered and turned pale.

Pleading that his nerves were frayed, he asked for permission to break off, to continue his account today. The prosecutor, Dirk Fernholz, told the judges that 'the suspects saw themselves as rightists and associated with such slogans as 'Get rid of Foreigners' and 'Germany for Germans' '. He said the defendants were drunk when they torched the house owned by the Genc family, which had lived in Solingen for 20 years.

The 17-year-old Christian R, whose boasting before and after the event had led to his arrest, said yesterday he did not wish to speak. He lives on the same street as the Genc family, and is alleged to have pointed the Genc house out to schoolmates the evening before the attack, saying that the 'Turk- house' would 'soon burn'.

The trial, in the windowless high-security courtroom of the regional court, is scheduled to run until October. Because of contradictions in the confessions, 137 witnesses and 14 experts are due to be called. Existing alibis for three of the defendants, including Mr Gartmann, mean it is unclear how they could have been at the house at the time when the fire brigade believes that the fire began, shortly after 1.15am.

The prosecutors suggest that the fire began later, just before the first phone call to the fire brigade, at 1.40am. Within minutes, by the time that the fire brigade arrived, the entire house was ablaze.

Defence lawyers said yesterday that they did not wish to defend what had happened, but wished to 'prevent the sentencing of innocent people'. Georg Greeven, one of the defence lawyers, said that this was especially important, given the public 'need for expiation' following the attack.

Hundreds of mostly Turkish demonstrators gathered outside the courtroom yesterday, demanding a ban on far- right groups.