BERLIN, Aug 31 – One of two immigrants arrested for the fatal stabbing of a German man could have been deported in mid-2016, a German court said on Friday, news that risks fuelling far-right outrage about a case that has already sparked xenophobic protests.
Family Minister Franziska Giffey laid flowers at the scene of the crime in the eastern German city of Chemnitz on Friday, the first member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet to visit after an incident that has laid bare deep divisions over a 2015 decision to welcome over a million mostly Muslim migrants.
She said the unrest that followed the stabbing was a wake-up call for the federal government to pay attention to public concerns, and suggested an additional cabinet minister or Merkel herself could visit the city at a later point.
Michael Kretschmer, premier of the state of Saxony, where Chemnitz lies, said the failure to deport the suspect, a 22-year-old Iraqi man with multiple previous convictions, was the responsibility of federal authorities.
A local court in Chemnitz on Friday confirmed that Yousif Ibrahim Abdullah could have been deported two years ago to Bulgaria, where he first applied for asylum, but authorities missed a six-month deadline for doing so.
Anti-migrant groups and far-right extremists have seized on the case as proof that Merkel’s open door policy let in criminals and terrorists, with fake news reports and a leaked arrest warrant further inflaming the mood.
The chief federal prosecutor’s office said it had begun a preliminary investigation into whether the rapid mobilisation of far-right protesters revealed an organised network.
Many Germans have recoiled at the anti-migrant violence seen after the stabbing death. A new poll for broadcaster ZDF showed 76 percent of Germans see far-right extremists as posing a danger to German democracy.
Alexander Gauland, leader of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, rejected that view, and said it was “legitimate” for Germans to feel angry after such a crime.
He criticised politicians and the media for branding all the protesters as far-right extremists and said his party did not condone the dozen “Hitler salutes” reported at Monday’s rally.
Gauland said AfD chapters in Saxony and two other states would convene a march on Saturday to mourn the 35-year old carpenter killed, and criticised state police for losing control of Monday’s protests, which drew some 6,000 supporters.
Kretschmer told German broadcaster ARD on Friday that the AfD – which won nearly 13 percent of the vote in last year’s federal election – bore some blame for the riots after it “used very warlike language to call people to take to the streets”.
(Reporting by Reuters TV in Chemnitz, and Andrea Shalal and Hans-Edzard Busemann in Berlin)