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German neo-Nazi bags life imprisonment for murder of pro-migration politician

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A German neo-Nazi has been sentenced to life in prison for murdering pro-migration politician Walter Luebcke, a killing that shocked the country and highlighted the growing threat of right-wing violence.

Stephan Ernst, 47, was found guilty of shooting dead the politician from Angela Merkel’s conservative CDU party on June 1, 2019, in what is believed to be Germany’s first far-right political assassination since World War II.

The conservative politician was found lifeless on the terrace of his home near the central city of Kassel, an autopsy showed he had been shot in the head at close range.

Summing up its case in December, the prosecution said Ernst had been motivated by racism and xenophobia, BBC reports.

A co-defendant, Markus Hartmann, who had been accused of being an accessory in the killing and allegedly helping Ernst in weapons training, was cleared of the complicity charge.

He was found guilty of weapons possession charges and received a suspended sentence of 0ne and half years.

Luebcke, 65, belonged to chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative CDU party and headed the Kassel regional council in the western state of Hesse.

He supported Merkel’s 2015 decision to open the country’s borders to refugees and spoke in favour of hosting asylum seekers in a local town.

Prosecutors believe Ernst and his accomplice attended a speech by Luebcke in October 2015 when the politician defended helping refugees, adding that anyone who did not agree with those values was free to leave the country.

The remark was widely shared online and turned Luebcke into a hate figure for the far right.

After the speech, Ernst increasingly projected his hatred of foreigners on to Luebcke and allegedly began tracking his movements. prosecutors said at the opening of the trial in June.

Between 2016 and 2018, prosecutors say he worked with Hartmann to improve his skill with firearms, and the two attended right-wing demonstrations together.

In the course of their investigations, prosecutors separately charged Ernst with attempted murder for allegedly stabbing an Iraqi asylum seeker in the back in 2016.

They also uncovered weapons and ammunition belonging to Ernst, including revolvers, pistols and a submachine gun.

Although Ernst initially admitted killing Luebcke, he later retracted his confession and said Hartmann had pulled the trigger.

But he then sacked his defence lawyer and reverted to his original confession, claiming he had been pushed into blaming Hartmann.

Ernst has a long criminal history and was known to police as a neo-Nazi sympathiser.

He was convicted of an attempted bomb attack on an asylum home in 1993. German media say he took part in neo-Nazi clashes targeting a union demonstration in 2009.

But Ernst then slipped off the security services’ radar, fuelling criticism that the authorities were not taking the far-right threat seriously enough.

Interior minister Horst Seehofer has declared far-right extremism the biggest security threat facing Germany.

He has promised tougher security measures, including a crackdown on online hate speech.

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