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Six men charged with attempted murder in Berlin subway attack

Six men who allegedly tried to set a homeless man on fire in a Berlin subway station on Christmas have been charged with attempted murder. A 17-year-old was also accused of failure to provide assistance to the victim.

The men, aged 16 to 21, are suspected of trying to set a homeless man on fire in a Berlin subway station were charged with attempted murder on Thursday. State prosecutors filed charges at a youth court in the German capital. 

The suspects stand accused of lighting flammable objects "in direct proximity to the head" of a 37-year-old Pole who was sleeping on a bench in Schönleinstraße subway station on Christmas day. "The defendants were [aware] that the man could have died excruciatingly in an uncontrollably spreading fire," the prosecution stated.  

If convicted, the six accused would face at least three years in jail, the mandatory minimum sentence for attempted murder in Germany. 

Deutschland Berlin - Schönleistraße (DW/J. Chase)

The men allegedly set a homeless man sleeping on a bench at Schönleinstraße station on fire

A 17-year-old who was with the men at the time of the attack was charged with failure to provide assistance because "he left the scene without trying to stop the fire from spreading or trying to get help," the state prosecutor's office said. 

The homeless man was not injured because passengers from an oncoming train and a train driver rescued him from the flames, but all of his belongings were destroyed. 

One of several subway attacks

The case provoked outrage in Germany after it was caught on security cameras. After police released photos of the suspected attackers, six of them later turned themselves over to the police , another was arrested. All seven have been in police custody since December 27. Their motives for the attack are still unknown. 

Because all seven alleged perpetrators came to Germany as refugees - six from Syria, one from Libya - the attack sparked a debate over the integration of so-called "unaccompanied minors" seeking refugee status in Germany and stirred anti-migrant sentiments

The incident was one in a string of violent attacks at Berlin subway stations. In October, a man was caught on camera kicking an unsuspecting woman down the stairs, breaking her arm, at a subway station just four stops south of the site of the Christmas attack. Police released the security tape of that attack in early December. Speculation that the perpetrator was of North African or Middle Eastern origin was quickly disproven - the 27-year-old suspect hails from Bulgaria, a majority Christian member state of the European Union. 

mb/sms (AFP, dpa)

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