ZIMBABWE – Two men have gone on trial in Germany for the racist firebomb attack on an immigrant shelter used by a Zimbabwean family in the small Lower Saxony town of Salzhemmendorf last August.
The 34-year-old Zimbabwean woman and her three children were said to have been lucky to escape with their lives.
Lower Saxony premier Stefan Weil described the attack as the worst racist incident in the region in years, adding it was “unbearable and disgraceful”.
Germany was then experiencing a spate of attacks on refugee homes amid a huge influx of asylum-seekers, many of them fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East and Africa.
Three people were arrested over the incident; two men aged 25 and 30, and a 23-year-old woman. One man had a history of violence, and the other a police record for theft. The trio confessed to the attack, which occurred around 2 a.m.
The two men recently appeared before a Salzhemmendorf facing attempted murder charges.
German law protects the identity of the accused, meaning that unless there are extenuating circumstances, only first names and initials of surnames are made public.
The court was told that Mr D., 25, who is fond of late-night drinking and right-wing metal bands, and a friend, Dennis L., carefully made the Molotov cocktail themselves, using a pen to push wood shavings into the gasoline-filled bottle.
Mr. L., 31, who liked to daub swastikas on village walls, then hurled it through a window of the street-level apartment of the single mother of three from Zimbabwe who remains “so traumatised she still has trouble sleeping”.
“If the Negro burns, I will really celebrate,” Mr. L. said afterward, according to Saskia B., 24, who served as the driver for the two but is now testifying against her friends.
Mr. L. denies he made the remark about an attack which, by good fortune, injured no one.
The Zimbabwean woman and her three children, who were sleeping in the room next to where the incendiary device landed, remained uninjured, with the fire brigade arriving quickly to extinguish the blaze that broke out. One of the children had normally slept in the room where the fire occurred.
The family was taken to alternative accommodation, where the mother was said to be receiving counseling.
Reports say the trial of the three friends represents a rare prosecution against one of almost 1,200 attacks on refugee shelters — including some 100 arsons — since January 2015.
Assaults on refugee shelters have become routine, averaging more than two a day since the start of last year.
As Germany struggles to absorb more than one million refugees, the attacks present an increasingly pressing challenge for Chancellor Angela Merkel and local authorities, who face a sudden and sinister rise in right-wing racism, tinged with Nazi ideas.