Dresden - The silence after hatred

Oliver L. only thinks of a joke. Perhaps a friend who discovered him and his partner Thomas by chance while on vacation in Dresden and gave them a strong pat on the back for fun. That's what it feels like to him. A few minutes later he is lying in a pool of blood on the cobblestones of the narrow Rosmaringasse behind the Kulturpalast, in the middle of Dresden's old town.

Abdullah H. is not a friend. The 20-year-old Islamist rammed two kitchen knives in the back of L. and his partner.

The witnesses in the trial before the Dresden Higher Regional Court trace what happened on the evening of October 4, 2020 in brutal detail. The 21 centimeter long blade digs into Oliver L.'s abdominal cavity with great force, causing life-threatening injuries. The handle breaks off. His friend Thomas L. is also seriously injured, stumbles a few more steps, hits a site fence and collapses. Crouching on the ground, Oliver L. kicks the perpetrator, who stabs his legs with the knife. After the initial shock, the two men shout loudly for help. H. lets go of them, hesitates at first. Then he throws away the knife, sprints off, turns around a construction container and disappears. All of this takes less than two minutes.

People come to the crime scene from a nearby café. So much blood. Only a witness thinks someone has spilled something. A Polish tourist pinches Oliver L.'s leg in order to at least stop the bleeding from this wound.

Thomas L. is still conscious for a quarter of an hour before he bleeds to death. Forensic experts can't say any more precisely. The 55-year-old from Krefeld dies in the hospital. Oliver L., who is two years his junior, survives seriously injured. The perpetrator H. only has one explanation for this: he was not "strong enough in heart" during the act, he explains to the psychological expert during the pre-trial detention. Next time he wants to do better.

The Federal Prosecutor's Office classifies the act as an Islamist act of terrorism. The motive: Islamism, coupled with hatred of gays. The perpetrator recognized the two men as a same-sex couple and "therefore wanted to kill them as well as generally as representatives of the social order he rejected". The trial has been running in a specially secured courtroom on the outskirts of Dresden since mid-April.

H. does not recognize the court

On the first day of the trial, H. is shown into the hall in a khaki parka. He looks carefully at the cameras, then at the court. With the black curls, the downy beard and the dark eyes, he looks harmless, tousled. In conversation, he is usually calm and friendly, say investigators and the psychological expert.

Did the perpetrator say something? Did he look him in the eye after he stabbed? Oliver L., the survivor, is connected via video from Cologne, but he can no longer remember. He and his partner had turned around, "then something was threatening". The worst seconds are obliterated from his mind. He is still receiving psychological treatment. “It is coping with grief. What can I say? When I'm at work, I'm distracted. But otherwise? Phew. “At least the physical scars have healed well. Although the areas on his back are still numb, he can walk again.

The survivor reported for half an hour. Abdullah H. listens, as always, motionless and silent. He sits there quietly, his hands and feet handcuffed, with the translator next to him. Does he understand what this is about? Does the process mean anything to him? He does not recognize the secular court, says his public defender. "For him this is an earthly court that does not have to evaluate what he has done out of divine conviction." His client will "defend himself in silence". When the presiding judge speaks directly to him again, H. just looks surprised and shakes his head. As if it had nothing to do with anything.

Abdullah H. grew up in a suburb of Aleppo, the third of nine children. His father is a craftsman, the family is rather poor and not particularly religious. H. causes trouble. He's been smoking since he was six years old. He only goes to school up to the 5th grade, then the war begins. He tears away from home several times, goes to Turkey, gets by with thefts and odd jobs, all the way to Istanbul. Then he goes back to his parents once more. They send him to Germany with money from his relatives. He should bring the family later.

In 2015 he arrived in Munich as a minor refugee. He lives in several asylum shelters, most recently in Dresden in his own apartment. There he begins to watch jihadist propaganda videos. Only here does he begin to pray regularly and also to observe Lent. An Islamism expert from the LKA Sachsen certifies that he has large gaps in knowledge and a very selective religious education.

He was arrested in August 2017. He has been sentenced to several years of juvenile imprisonment for trying to recruit members for ISIS and for obtaining instructions for a suicide attack. In the prison he clashes with guards, so the Leipzig district court extends his detention for another year. Because of the criminal offenses, his refugee status is revoked, but because of the human rights situation in Syria, H. cannot be deported. He will be released from the Regis-Breitingen prison on September 29, 2020. He committed the murder five days later.

There is no doubt about H's guilt. During the pre-trial detention he described the crime in detail to the psychological expert. Before the act, he prayed in the mosque and felt very calm. He took the tram a few stops into the city. There he followed several people, but he abandoned them again. At 21.16:XNUMX p.m. he met his later victims. He walked past them, watched them. For ten minutes. Why did he think they could be gay? He saw how they laughed together, H. tells the appraiser. They never actually held hands, says Oliver L. Even after almost eight years of relationship. A self-protection mechanism that many gays in Germany have internalized. He didn't help that evening.

He would also have killed every other unbeliever, H. tells the appraiser. He sees Germany as a battlefield. Two gays were a particularly good fit because they were "enemies of God". He considers beating or killing them to be legitimate.

The psychiatrist Norbert Leygraf has already prepared reports on Islamist criminals in many trials. He doesn't believe in pathologizing jihadist perpetrators as mentally ill. He cannot identify any mental illness in H. either. He was surprised at how unusually open H. reported about his own sexuality. Although he has never had sexual intercourse, he masturbated to photos of women as a teenager. That is sinful, he is afraid of being punished by God at the Last Judgment. Only by killing unbelievers does he think he can get rid of it.

The Dresden court wants to give a verdict by the end of May. An attack without warning, for base motives, insidiously from behind - the criteria for a murder are clearly fulfilled. Subsequent safekeeping for the perpetrator is very likely. But cases like Hs show the limits of our legal system. Rehabilitation seems difficult to imagine. There are no indications that H. will move away from his hatred of gays and his Salafist attitudes. When he was free again, he would not kill again, H. had told the psychiatrist. This time he would seek advice from IS beforehand. To kill more unbelievers next time.

The motive was kept silent

But why couldn't the police and the Office for the Protection of the Constitution prevent the attack? The security authorities knew about the dangerousness of H. The LKA Sachsen classified him as a dangerous person since his first arrest in August 2017. In the prison he asked other inmates how best to get weapons. After a meeting in July, two and a half months before his dismissal, an LKA employee noted that his jihadist sentiments had not changed.

The security authorities decide to keep him under close surveillance after he has been detained. He is under supervision, is not allowed to leave Dresden, has to report to the police three times a week. He is not allowed to come into contact with people from the Islamist milieu in Dresden. He is housed in shared accommodation so that he cannot isolate himself too much. The Office for the Protection of the Constitution is also observing him. Even on the day of the attack. Nevertheless, the investigators need two weeks to arrest him on the basis of DNA traces from the crime scene.

The LKA had done "everything legally permissible" to monitor it, said the head of the police state security in the LKA Saxony, Dirk Münster, after the arrest. But why was it not noticed that the Islamist illegally bought two sets of kitchen knives? Why did it take so long to get arrested?

Despite such questions, the criticism of the security authorities in Saxony was noticeably quiet; there were no calls for an investigative committee as in the case of the Berlin bomber Anis Amri. In general, the public reaction remained conspicuously restrained. The prosecutor only spoke of an "attempted murder of two tourists". It has not been officially confirmed for a long time that it was a gay couple and that there was also homophobia and a political motive in the room.

One month after the crime, the Christopher Street Day in Dresden organized a vigil for the victims. Several hundred people took part. The gay Bavarian FDP member of the Bundestag Thomas Sattelberger demanded in a speech that the men should not be "made victims again" by keeping their gayness secret. At the time, the chairman of the Dresden CSD wished that the Federal Chancellor and the Federal President would come to Dresden for a memorial service in order to expressly name the homophobic act. But not even the Prime Minister of Saxony comes, whose State Chancellery is less than five minutes away. Deputy Prime Minister Martin Dulig from the SPD is taking part on behalf of the state government.

Even the process has not yet ensured that the public is interested in the Dresden bloody act. Only the head of state security in the LKA Saxony wants to monitor threats more closely in the future, he says. If another Islamist is to be released from custody in the fall, he will not only be monitored, but "guarded", announced Dirk Münster. Two patrol officers are supposed to follow him every step of the way to the front door. There will certainly be a debate, but Münster does not want to be accused of inaction.

Alexander Moritz is a correspondent for Deutschlandfunk, Deutschlandfunk Kultur and Deutschlandfunk Nova in Saxony