BERLIN: A trial opens in Dusseldorf over a train station bombing that apparently targeted Jewish people and foreigners, injuring several on Thursday. The case looked set to remain one of Germany’s most infamous unsolved crimes, until now.
The trial begins on Thursday of 51-year-old Ralf S. – who is accused of attempted murder in the July 2000 bombing of a train station in Dusseldorf – which allegedly targeted mainly Jewish people and Russian-Germans.
Prosecutors dropped a previous case against the former neo-Nazi and the shelved the case but reopened their investigation after the man apparently bragged, while awaiting trial for another crime years afterwards, that he had carried out the attack.
The explosive device, which contained some 200 grams of TNT, was hung inside a plastic bag on a fence at Dusseldorf’s Wehrhahn train station and left 10 language school students from the former Soviet Union badly injured.
One pregnant woman who came from Ukraine lost her baby, and a foot, as result of the afternoon pipe bomb attack.
Police launched a major investigation and followed on hundreds of clues — with more than 900 tips from the public and testimony from more than 1,000 people — but were unable to prosecute any individual successfully.
Officers questioned current suspect Ralf S. for several hours in the wake of the bombing and placed him under surveillance, but they were unable to press ahead because of insufficient evidence.
In June 2014 a prison inmate told police that the suspect — who was briefly in custody over an unrelated offense — had boasted about carrying out the attack, using a racial slur against immigrants.
A ‘happy event’ in suspect’s life
After the investigation began again, investigators listened in on the defendant’s telephone conversations. They heard that, after the birth of his three children, Ralf S. considered the “Wehrhahn thing” to be the “fourth happy event” of his life.
The lawyer acting for Ralf S., Olaf Heuvens, says his client vehemently denies the renewed accusation. “The client denies having anything to do with the attack. He absolutely denies having the technical abilities to prepare for the attack, and he denies having had the opportunity to get hold of the ingredients to build that bomb.”
“Why should my client tell an inmate he barely knew something like that?” Heuvens told the DPA news agency.
Concern over far-right attacks
The bombing came as a number of attacks against foreigners had raised concern in Germany, and the failure of the justice system to solve the Düsseldorf case fed into calls for the far-right NPD party — which was represented in a number of German state parliaments — to be banned.
Questions have been raised about the initial investigation — especially in the light of the National Socialist Underground (NSU) murders, which showed that police and intelligence agencies avoided pursuing the lines of inquiry that led to Germany’s far-right scene.
Why were victims targeted?
As well as the suspect having neo-Nazi affiliations, investigators believe he may have had got into a feud with East Europeans living in the neighbourhood. He had apparently attempted to intimidate the school students without success and had felt humiliated by his failed efforts.
After that, Ralf S. was said to have rented an apartment where he allegedly constructed the bomb and a remote detonator.
Who is Ralf S.?
The defendant is a former soldier who traded in army goods and military memorabilia.
Many of those who knew Ralf S. at the time of the attack said they believed he was capable of carrying it out. However, police were unable to establish further proof in their line of investigation. The suspect was said to have boasted “I’m a tough nut” to a female friend after he was questioned.
According to a report in the Kölner Stadtanzeiger newspaper, the suspect had called another well-known neo-Nazi in the area, Sven Skoda, to request the latter to supply him with an alibi.