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Two neo-Nazis go on trial accused of killing German politician

Walter Luebcke, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party, was shot on his porch on June 1 last year.

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Stephan Ernst (Thomas Lohnes/Pool Photo via AP)

Stephan Ernst (Thomas Lohnes/Pool Photo via AP)

Stephan Ernst (Thomas Lohnes/Pool Photo via AP)

A German court has started hearing the case against two far-right extremists accused of killing a regional politician whose execution-style murder shocked the country last year.

Walter Luebcke, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party who led the regional administration in the Kassel area of central Germany, was shot on his porch on June 1 2019, and died later that night.

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Walter Luebcke (Uwe Zucch/dpa/AP)

Walter Luebcke (Uwe Zucch/dpa/AP)

AP/PA Images

Walter Luebcke (Uwe Zucch/dpa/AP)

Stephan Ernst, a 46-year-old with previous convictions for violent anti-migrant crimes, is accused of murder, attempted murder, serious bodily harm and firearms offences.

A second man, identified only as Markus H because of privacy rules, is charged with being an accessory to murder and breaking firearms laws.

Lines formed late on Monday outside the Frankfurt regional court where the trial is taking place amid heightened security precautions. Restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic mean only a small number of reporters and members of the public will be able to witness the trial.

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Journalists queue in front of the justice building in Frankfurt (Michael Probst/AP)

Journalists queue in front of the justice building in Frankfurt (Michael Probst/AP)

AP/PA Images

Journalists queue in front of the justice building in Frankfurt (Michael Probst/AP)

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

Federal prosecutor Dieter Killmer said Ernst was motivated by “racism and xenophobia”.

Both suspects sought “an ethnically and culturally homogenous society”, said Mr Killmer.

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Markus H is led into the courtroom (Thomas Lohnes/AP)

Markus H is led into the courtroom (Thomas Lohnes/AP)

AP/PA Images

Markus H is led into the courtroom (Thomas Lohnes/AP)

In January 2016, Ernst allegedly stabbed an Iraqi asylum-seeker in the back, injuring the victim’s spine and severing two nerves. Police only linked him to the racially motivated stabbing after finding the knife used in his possession when he was arrested for Mr Luebcke’s murder last June.

Authorities discovered numerous illegal firearms he had stored in various locations, including three revolvers, two pistols, two rifles and a submachine gun, as well as 1,400 bullets.

Ernst initially told investigators he carried out the killing alone, but later retracted this claim.

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Mr Luebcke’s wife Irmgard and her sons arrive for the first day of the trial (Thomas Lohnes/AP)

Mr Luebcke’s wife Irmgard and her sons arrive for the first day of the trial (Thomas Lohnes/AP)

AP/PA Images

Mr Luebcke’s wife Irmgard and her sons arrive for the first day of the trial (Thomas Lohnes/AP)

During the trial, Mr Luebcke’s wife and two sons will be present as co-plaintiffs, as permitted by German law.

“I am convinced that it was a cold-blooded, insidious, cowardly murder with vicious motives,” Holger Matt, a lawyer for the family, told reporters outside the court.

The German government vowed to crack down on far-right extremism following the killing and other attacks last year, warning that it poses a significant security threat in the country.

The trial is scheduled to last until at least October.

PA