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Prosecutors charge neo-Nazi with German politician's murder

BERLIN (AP) — German prosecutors have charged a far-right extremist with the killing of a regional politician from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party last year, and a near-fatal attack on an Iraqi asylum-seeker in 2016.

Federal prosecutors said Wednesday that Stephan Ernst, 46, who has previous convictions for a string violent anti-migrant crimes, is accused of murder, attempted murder, serious bodily harm and firearms offenses.

A second man, identified only as Markus H. due to privacy rules, was charged with accessory to murder and breaking firearms laws for allegedly helping Ernst improve his marksmanship while suspecting that he was considering a politically motivated attack, prosecutors said.

Walter Luebcke, who led the regional administration in Germany's central region of Kassel, was shot on his porch on June 1, 2019, and died later that night. His killing sparked widespread outrage in Germany and warnings about the growing danger of violent far-right extremism.

Prosecutors said in a statement that Ernst and Markus H. both attended an October 2015 town hall event where Luebcke defended the German government's decision to allow hundreds of thousands of refugees into the country. A video of Luebcke's remarks was widely shared in far-right circles, drawing numerous threats.

Angered by sexual assaults in Cologne months later that were blamed on migrants and by an Islamist truck attack in Nice, France, in July 2016, Ernst allegedly decided to kill Luebcke to “send a publicly noticeable signal against the current state order, which he rejected,” according to prosecutors.

In January 2016, Ernst allegedly stabbing an Iraqi asylum-seeker in the back, injuring the victim's spine and severing two nerves. Prosecutors said the attack was rooted in Ernst's “right-wing extremist hatred of refugees.” Police only linked him to the stabbing after finding the knife used in his possession when he was arrested for Luebcke’s slaying last June.

Authorities also discovered numerous illegal firearms that Ernst had stored in various locations, including three revolvers, two pistols, two rifles and a submachine gun, as well as 1,400 bullets. Prosecutors allege that Ernst traveled to Luebcke's home near Kassel on the night a festival was being held nearby, crept up on his victim and shot him in the head at close distance using a Rossi revolver.

Ernst initially told investigators he carried out the killing alone, but later retracted this claim. His lawyer, Frank Hannig, said Wednesday that “the truth is perhaps a lot more complicated” than the version put forward by federal prosecutors, noting that Ernst had since accused Markus H. of being the driving force behind the attack on Luebcke.

Hannig said in a video statement posted on YouTube - an unusual form of communication for a German lawyer - that he and his colleagues were defending Ernst as a “human being.” “We aren't defending his actions, to say it clearly,” Hannig added. “A murder is a murder, and a murderer must be punished. But he has the right to a fair trial.”

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