Girl who faked Nazi attack is let off

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BONN - Investigators yesterday questioned a disabled 17-year-old German girl who claimed last week that neo-Nazis had slashed a swastika in her cheek, but who subsequently admitted her injury was self-inflicted, writes Steve Crawshaw. The state prosecutor's office afterwards announced that no charges would be brought.

The girl's claims, which were accompanied by a detailed description of the alleged attackers, had led to a nation-wide police search, and a 10,000-strong protest demonstration last Thursday in her home town, the east German city of Halle.

By the weekend, however, investigators were convinced that the girl had made up the story, as a 'cry for help'. The police action was called off, leaving bewilderment and bitterness behind. After yesterday's questioning, prosecutors said the girl would not, however, be charged with the German equivalent of 'wasting police time'.

Organisers of the protest in Halle on Elke J's behalf had complained that their solidarity action was made to seem 'pointless' because of the fiction that she created. Others sought to salvage something from the confusion by emphasising that far-right violence remains a real problem, whatever the facts of this particular case. In mitigation, they emphasised that the girl is both physically handicapped and mentally distressed.

Prosecutors, explaining the decision yesterday not to press charges, referred to the girl's disturbed mental state. She claimed yesterday that she had not 'consciously' lied. When her story began to come under scrutiny last week, however, she went into hiding for several days.

It seems likely that far-right groups will make good propaganda use of the confusion. That does not change the fact that the disabled have been a target for the far right, with attacks reported on average almost once a week in the past two years. The initial reaction - from police, politicians nation-wide, and her schoolfellows - made it clear most people found such an attack shocking, but entirely credible. Early police doubts set in because of the unusually detailed description the girl was able to provide.

Police said yesterday 45 right- wing skinheads from the east German town of Erfurt had attacked a small group of youths at a motorway services area. Charges are likely to be brought.