'Racist' on trial for murdering Muslim woman in courtroom

A German accused of brutally murdering a pregnant Egyptian woman in full view of courtroom judges went on trial yesterday amid massive security in Dresden to answer for a crime that has provoked outrage across the Muslim world.

His face masked by dark glasses and the hood of a blue jacket , the defendant identified only as Alex W. shuffled towards the witness box in the court, guarded by 200 police and with his ankles and arms bound.

The 28-year-old German of Russian extraction sat motionless behind a bullet-proof screen as he was accused of the murder of Marwa al-Sherbinbi, a 31-year-old Egyptian pharmacist after stabbing her to death with a seven-inch long kitchen knife in the same court building earlier this year.

Mrs Sherbinbi was three months pregnant at the time of the attack. The incident was witnessed by her three-year-old son Mustufa. She bled to death in the courtroom after being stabbed at least 16 times. Her husband was also seriously injured. A security guard who arrived on the scene minutes later, shot her husband in the leg after mistaking him for the killer.

The crime provoked anti-German protests in Egypt, Iran and other Muslim countries. However it was barely reported in Germany at the time and led to charges that the country chose to ignore racist attacks against Muslims. Media correspondents from across the Middle East were in Dresden yesterday for the trial’s opening.

Dresden state prosecutor Frank Heinrich told the court that Alex W., who was unemployed, was motivated by deep-seated racism. “He has a pronounced hatred of non-Europeans and Muslims,” he said.

Alex W. had been in court in July to to appeal against a €780 fine imposed on him for publicly defaming Mrs Sherbini. She had asked him to get off a swing so her son could use it. Alex W. refused and called her a “slut”, an “Islamist” and a “terrorist.”

After Mrs Sherbini had testified at that appeal hearing , Alex W. pulled out the kitchen knife he had smuggled into the building and stabbed her and her husband repeatedly. Mrs Sherbinbi’s husband appeared at yesterday’s trial on crutches because of the injuries he had sustained. He will be a key witness during the proceedings.

The German media’s slow response to the incident embarrassed Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government. She offered her condolences in person to Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak at a G8 summit earlier this year. Thousands also rallied in Dresden to mourn Mrs Sherbini’s death while the Egyptian media dubbed her the “veil martyr.”

In an attempt at damage limitation, the German Foreign Ministry set up a special task force to concentrate on Arab world media and ensure that it reported the incident “objectively”. Foreign journalists attending yesterday’s trial were scrupulously briefed on Germany’s justice system,.

The Egyptain government has demanded the maximum sentence of life imprisonment for Alex W. whom psychiatrists have said shows no sign that he acted with diminished responsibility. Egypt’s ambassador to Berlin said he was confident of the “impartiality” of German justice. A verdict is expected on 11 November.