Man guilty of stabbing 'veil martyr' to death in court

Russian-German who hated all foreigners jailed for killing muslim woman

It started with a seemingly trivial argument about a swing in a children's playground, but soon spiralled into one of the most shocking racist murders Germany has witnessed since its reunification.

Eleven months later, Marwa el-Sherbini, a beautiful and well-educated Egyptian woman expecting her second child, was brutally stabbed to death with a 12-inch knife in front of judges in open court in the east German city of Dresden.

Her husband, tried to protect her and was attacked for his pains. He was left clinging to his 31-year-old Muslim wife in a pool of her blood on the courtroom floor, as their three-year-old son looked on. As he mouthed "She's dying, She's dying", Mrs Sherbini bled to death. Security guards had failed to intervene in time.

The case, which aroused scant interest in Germany at the time, provoked outrage throughout the Muslim world. Mrs Sherbini was dubbed the "veil martyr".

Yesterday her killer, a 28-year-old German of Russian extraction, was sentenced to life imprisonment. Alexander Wiens stood motionless in the Dresden court only a few doors away from the courtroom where he carried out the murder. This time security has been exceptionally high, with 200 police officers standing guard.

His face covered with a hood and his eyes hidden behind sunglasses, the defendant was convicted of murder, attempted murder and causing grievous bodily harm. Judges said that, because of the severity of Wiens's crime, he would not be eligible for parole after 15 years.

An unemployed member of Russia's German-speaking minority, Wiens is one of thousands of Russian Germans who have moved to Germany since reunification. Many, whose forebears migrated to Russia in the 18th century, have failed to integrate into German society and are treated as outsiders.

Elwy Okaz, Mrs Sherbini's Egyptian husband, who is a geneticist, was in court to hear the verdict, still using crutches as a result of the injuries he sustained. He gave the court a tearful account of how badly their son, now aged four, missed his mother.

The court yesterday accepted the prosecution's argument that Wiens was driven by "an unbridled hatred of foreigners". The presiding judge, Birgit Wiegand, said Wiens, who, listed his activities as "drinking, smoking and gambling", had moved to Germany in 2003. She said he had described life in the country as "multicultural shit" and blamed foreigners for taking away German jobs. "He despised Muslims. In his eyes they were all Islamic fanatics," she said. "He wanted to be a perfect German."

The events that led to the tragic and brutal murder of Mrs Sherbini, a pharmacist who was working at Dresden University, began on a sunny Thursday afternoon in August last year when she strolled into a children's playground. She was wearing jeans, a white blouse and the only indication that she was Muslim was a small headscarf. With her was her son, Mustafa.

The toddler wanted a go on one of the two swings in the playground, but they were both occupied. Wiens sat on one, smoking a cigarette. Mrs Sherbini asked him in German whether he would mind getting off because her son wanted a turn.

His immediate response was a torrent of insults. "You are an Islamist and a terrorist who has no business in Germany," he said, adding that she was no better than a "whore" and that her son too would grow up to be a "terrorist".

The mother was shocked and felt horribly insulted. A bystander who had witnessed the incident called the police. Mrs Sherbini was persuaded to file an official complaint against Wiens. Three months later, he was found guilty by a Dresden district court and ordered to pay a €330 (£298) fine.

Wiens refused and wrote a letter to the court which concluded: "I feel humiliated and unfairly treated by the German justice system." He appealed and the case was again referred to Dresden' district court. The following month the fine imposed on him was increased to €780. Wiens again refused to pay and launched another appeal which was heard by the city's regional court on 1 July this year.

Judge Tom Maciejewski, who was in charge of proceedings that day, has been too distraught to work ever since. He choked on his words and had to interrupt his testimony frequently when he was called as a witness at Wiens' subsequent murder trial.

On the day of the killing he had assumed the case was regarding a minor offence that could be dealt with in minutes. Security was correspondingly lax.

"I registered the fact that Wiens had a bag on his lap and I heard the zip-fastener being pulled open," he said. "Then I saw him leap up and attack her with his fists. It was like a machine gun. I ran to him and tried to grab him ... and then I saw that he had this knife in his right hand."

The judge ran out of the court and tried to find help. When he walked back in, Mrs Sherbini's husband, who had by then also been knifed, was saying, "She's dying". At that moment an armed security guard ran into the courtroom and, assuming Mrs Sherbini's husband was the attacker, promptly shot him in the leg. By that time Mrs Sherbini was dead.

The shocking courtroom murder was hardly reported in Germany. The case was treated as a domestic argument that had run out of control and as a failure of court security proceedings. In the Muslim world however, it was treated as an example of German Islamophobia and provoked protests in several Arab countries.

Despite complaints that Chancellor Angela Merkel's government had failed adequately to condemn the murder at the time, Egypt's ambassador to Germany, Ramzy Ezzeldin Ramzy, welcomed yesterday's verdict."I think that getting the maximum possible sentence says a lot," he said. "I think it enables the family to feel that justice has been done."

Maria Böhmer, the German government official responsible for immigrant affairs, said the verdict sent a clear signal. "The message is: there is no place for xenophobia in our country," she said.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Voices
Oscar Pistorius is led out of court in Pretoria. Pistorius received a five-year prison sentence for culpable homicide by judge Thokozile Masipais for the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp
voicesThokozile Masipa simply had no choice but to jail the athlete
Arts and Entertainment
Sister Cristina Scuccia sings 'Like a Virgin' in Venice
music

Like Madonna, Sister Cristina Scuccia's video is also set in Venice

Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004
music

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'

News
i100
Life and Style
The Tinder app has around 10 million users worldwide

techThe original free dating app will remain the same, developers say

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album