Germany breathed a collective sigh of relief yesterday as it became apparent that the blaze that killed 10 immigrants last Thursday in Lubeck could not have been the work of neo-Nazis.
Forensic scientists in the Baltic city established that the fire was set by someone inside the house. As the front door was locked, only a resident could have caused the inferno, they said.
A 21-year-old Lebanese man, Safwan Aid, who lived in the house with his family, was charged with 10 counts of murder, 38 counts of attempted murder, arson and other charges. He told his rescuers he had helped start the fire, the authorities said yesterday. They suggested the man may have been involved in a dispute with other residents of the house.
Police also were searching for others who may have been involved. "We are going under the assumption that he was not alone," said a prosecutor, Michael Boeckenhauer. Mr Aid's two brothers were detained but released after questioning.
Mr Aid was said by firefighters to have boasted that "we were the ones". His lawyer said the boast was misunderstood, while neighbours pointed out that the suspect had fought shoulder to shoulder with firefighters to rescue people from the flames.
"The suspect had detailed knowledge that only the perpetrator or someone involved in the deed could have known," said Klaus-Dieter Schultz, Lubeck's public prosecutor. "There were no technical devices in the area immediately surrounding the place where the fire broke out, so a technical cause was ruled out," Mr Schultz added.
Under pressure to find a logical explanation, the authorities still seem to be clutching at straws. Their latest theory is that there may have been conflict among the different nationalities occupying the crammed space of the house, though they concede that police had never been aware of any dispute. The hostel was inhabited by Zaireans, Togolese, Lebanese, Syrians and ethnic German immigrants from Poland.
For the moment, at least, the neo-Nazis are off the hook, along with the stigmatised population of eastern Germany, who came under suspicion in the aftermath of the blaze.
Four east Germans were held for a day without any evidence, thousands demonstrated in Lubeck and Hamburg against the extreme right, and politicians rushed to condemn the latest outbreak of racial violence.
There is a lesson to be learnt from Lubeck: that prejudice, in this case prejudice against the pauperised east, continues to permeate German society.