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Suspect in death of German teen 'confesses to murder'

Jefferson Chase (Berlin)
June 9, 2018

A man wanted over the murder of a 14-year-old German girl has been extradited to Germany from Iraq. The case has led to an outpouring of grief and anger in Germany.

Police at Frankfurt airport
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Becker

A rejected Iraqi Kurdish asylum seeker suspected of raping and murdering a 14-year-old German girl has been extradited back to Germany, German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer confirmed on Saturday. 

"I am delighted the suspect sought by justice is back in Germany," Seehofer said on Sunday evening, after the plane carrying the 20-year-old Ali B. landed in Frankfurt from the Iraqi Kurdish capital of Erbil. 

Ali B. reportedly confessed to murdering the 14-year-old German girl after being arrested in the town Zakho in Dohuk province of the Iraqi Kurdish region near the border with Turkey. German newspaper Bild reported the development on Saturday, citing a TV interview with the chief of police in Dohuk. Ali B. was reportedly apprehended with the help of his family the day before.

The body of the 14-year-old girl, identified in the media only as Susanna, was found on Wednesday near a refugee center in the western city of Wiesbaden where the suspect lived. An autopsy showed she had been the victim of a sexual attack.

Germany issued an international arrest warrant for Ali B. on Thursday after a young refugee from the same asylum center told the police that the Iraqi man had been involved in her disappearance. The suspect — an asylum seeker whose application for protection in Germany had been rejected — allegedly fled Germany for Iraq via Turkey with his eight-member family last weekend.

Ali B. was denied the right to asylum in 2016, but had been allowed to remain in a refugee facility while the decision in his case was being appealed. 

Police response questioned

The young age of the victim shocked many in Germany. Questions have also been asked about why the police officers responsible for the case took so long to find her body and how the suspect and his family were able to leave Germany with documents and airline tickets issued in different names.

Critics of Germany's refugee policies announced protests in Mainz on Saturday, as did protesters who said they would stage counterdemonstrations against racism. But despite calls, numbers were thin on the ground, according to DW reporter Carla Bleiker.

Quicker decisions, quicker deportations

Germany's state interior ministers convened on Friday to discuss Interior Minister Seehofer's plans to create centralized refugee processing facilities where he hopes asylum cases will be decided, and those whose applications are rejected to be deported, more quickly.

The fact that Ali B. and his family were only in Germany pending a decision in his appeal case is grist for the mill of those who say that Germany takes too long to determine who deserves asylum and that possibilities for appeal are exploited to delay deportations.

Seehofer said that the conference had reached 58 specific agreements that would, among other things, speed up deportations.

"It takes a long time for the judgement and then appeals — two years, if I'm not mistaken, in this case," Seehofer said. "I'm for the rule of law and order but we can't impinge on the ability of the state to take action."

Seehofer also said that he would be announcing a master plan for migration next week and that it would address problems at the Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF). The BAMF has come under massive criticism after it emerged that a local Bremen chapter illegally approved more than 1,000 asylum applications. Both critics and members of the BAMF itself have complained that the office was overwhelmed by the number of migrants arriving in Germany in recent years.

Candles for Susanna
Neighbors lit candles in memory of the murdered 14-year-old girlImage: picture alliance/dpa/B. Roessler

For the AfD, part of a pattern

The Interior Ministry's proposed measures are extremely unlikely to placate the staunchest critics of Germany's asylum and migration policies, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.  The populists have been stressing the alleged danger presented by young male migrants from Islamic countries to German women in recent weeks and were quick to cite the Susanna murder as an example of a larger trend.

The AfD has called for demonstrations in various parts of Germany, including Susanna's hometown of Mainz, on Saturday. Before Ali B.'s capture, the party's parliamentary leader, Alice Weidel, published a video on YouTube in which she called Susanna "a further victim of Angela Merkel's hypocritical and egotistical open-door policies to refugees."

Statistics compiled by Germany's Federal Criminal Police Agency suggest that refugees are disproportionately prone to commit crimes like murder and rape. But experts say that other circumstances, including the fact that so many of the refugees are young men as well as their precarious social status, need to be considered to understand the data properly.

Read moreAre refugees more criminal than the average German citizen?

On Friday morning, the AfD attempted to hold an impromptu minute of silence for Susanna in the Bundestag. The move was condemned by the other parties as an attempt to instrumentalize a human tragedy.

Horst Seehofer in Quedlinburg
The case has ramped up pressure on Horst Seehofer's Interior MinistryImage: picture-alliance/dpa/H. Schmidt

Popular outrage and populism

Cases like Susanna's murder have the potential to undermine the efforts of Merkel's conservatives to counter AfD attacks on their handling of mass migration and win back populist voters. The state interior ministers conference and the conservative leader of the state of Hesse, where the crime occurred, cautioned against knee-jerk political reactions.

"We're all horrified at this despicable crime, and I can understand people's outrage," said Hesse State Premier Volker Bouffier in Wiesbaden. "But now is the time for the investigators who need to clear up all the facts. Simple populism doesn't get us any further."

But a murder possibly committed by someone claiming to be fleeing persecution in Iraq who then fled back to Iraq to evade capture remains a political powder keg. Dohuk province in the Iraqi Kurdish region where Ali B. was arrested in largely stable, as is the city of Zakho where he was captured. 

Even members of Merkel's own conservative parliamentary group are asking whether authorities could have prevented Ali B's attempt to escape — and whether Germany needs to take immediate and more drastic action to facilitate quick deportations of rejected asylum applicants, particularly when perceived as a potential public threat.

Editor's note: Deutsche Welle follows the German press code, which stresses the importance of protecting the privacy of suspected criminals or victims and obliges us to refrain from revealing full names in such cases.