The Death of an Ideal Killing in Germany Triggers Fresh Refugee Debate
The recent rape and murder of a student in the bucolic university town of Freiburg, Germany, has shaken a city that welcomed refugees with open arms. As it emerges that a young Afghan man may have been the killer, a national debate on migrants is unfolding. By SPIEGEL Staff
Khadem Gholani put on a black hoodie for the interview. It's emblazoned with the words, "I've got 99 problems."
At the moment, though, the 19-year-old from Afghanistan is dealing with problem No. 100: The police claim that a young compatriot of his raped and murdered a female student in the southern German university city of Freiburg in October. Khadem also came to the city as a refugee, but he says he doesn't know the suspect. He says he's shocked by the crime, as are his foster parents and the whole city. He says he's afraid people might attack him or try to avoid him altogether in the future.
The young man is trying to finish up his secondary education and then start training as a tiler and rent his own apartment. That's the point at which he will leave the foster family that takes care of him, with their full refrigerator and golden retriever Salomon.
"We're afraid that doors will close on Khadem," says foster father Andreas Wende, who is sitting next to him in the kitchen. The family has been talking about the murder for the last several days, about the suffering of the victim's family and what the killer's foster parents are likely going through.
The Wende family -- father, mother, 18-year-old son and 16-year-old daughter -- took in their foster son two years ago. "At the time, the German culture of welcoming refugees with open arms was still going strong," Wende says. The psychologist says he has since grown more skeptical and even more fearful. "I have learned that problems can arise with the integration of young men from foreign cultures that need to be addressed in a professional setting."
'Nothing Like This Has Ever Happened Before'
Many in Freiburg, and also across the country, feel that the murder of the young student also marked the death of an ideal -- that foreigners wouldn't have any trouble adapting here and that there were no serious hurdles to prevent integration, at least none that couldn't be overcome with a bit of effort. "This is a worst-case scenario for anyone doing refugee work," says Thomas Köck, head of the Campus Christopherus Youth Foundation in Freiburg, the organization that placed Khadem with the Wende family. "Nothing like this has ever happened before and it has deeply affected us all."
The reactions to the murder have spread far beyond Freiburg. Rainer Wendt, the head of the German police officer's union, spoke of the danger of "mass immigration," and representatives of the German parliament warned of populism and "sedition." Right-wing politicians within the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) have also used the incident as an opportunity to renew old calls for criminals to be deported more quickly and for prosecutors to be given more leeway.
Even German Chancellor Angela Merkel has addressed the killing. "If it turns out that it was an Afghan refugee, then it should be condemned every bit as much as it would with any other killer, but it should also clearly be labelled for what it is."
Suspected killer Hussein K., a 17-year-old born on Nov. 12, 1999, in the central-Afghanistan town of Ghazni, speaks Dari as his mother tongue. He traveled to Germany on Nov. 18, 2015, during the period in which the flow of refugees along the Balkan route had reached its peak. K. arrived without his parents or any other adult relative: "Unaccompanied," is the word used by bureaucrats. He had no identification papers with him and he submitted his asylum application in February through the district administrative office in the city, which also became the youth's legal guardian.
The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees hadn't yet considered his asylum case. On his application, he stated he could not be deported from Germany. K. is likely a member of the largely Shiite Hazara minority in Afghanistan which has at times been persecuted by the Taliban. Many Hazaras live in Iran, where they are often viewed as second-class citizens, and it's possible that's also where K. came from.
He had been living with his foster family in the eastern part of Freiburg, in a house at the edge of the forest, since spring. His foster father has a career in a respected profession. K. had been attending a local private vocational school since December that specializes in children and young adults with special educational needs. He had previously lived in a group home affiliated with the school, where he stayed with other young refugees from Syria and Afghanistan.
Marijuana and Alcohol
A fellow pupil at school described him as being young man who had difficulty getting his life together. The source said Hussein smoked marijuana and drank a lot of alcohol, especially vodka. "Everyone knows." He says Hussein often met with other young men in Colombi Park near the city's central train station, having purchased the alcohol earlier, either at a supermarket or a corner store.
He says he saw Hussein recently in the city and had a brief, inconsequential chat with him. "Last month he was sad, before that he was always quite funny," says the young man.
On one occasion, the police responded to a call after Hussein got into a scuffle at school. The local public prosecutor's office also reports there was another incident this April in which K. was accused of taking part in a "dispute between young men" on a football field. But "the results of the investigation showed that the suspect was more the aggrieved party than the culprit," says a spokesperson for the prosecutor.
"He was never home -- he was always out somewhere," says one refugee who is friends with K. on Facebook. "You never knew where he was." He nonetheless describes K. as a "nice person. I wouldn't have thought he would do something that horrible."
On his Facebook page, K. presents himself in rapper chic, a cool guy with a black baseball cap, sometimes wearing white headphones. On a few selfies, he can be seen with short dark hair. Others show him with long hair on top that has been dyed a slightly lighter color.
K. also posted an image of an imaginary wolf figure leaning over a woman. There is also a picture of a tattoo that is likely his own. It shows a bird of prey and text featuring a life motto that roughly translates as: "That which we saw in front of our eyes transformed into our fate. We hardly had a chance to think about it before people were writing on a gravestone: The Lord has summoned us." Is there more to the text than just a teenager's dark thoughts? Is it a sign of psychological problems?
The circumstances surrounding the crime are still being investigated and K. has kept silent about the allegations. Police say that the suspect took a tram shortly before 2 a.m. on on October 16, the night of the killing, from Bertoldbrunnen, a fountain in Freiburg's city center, to Littenweiler, a neighborhood in the city's southeast, and got off at the last station 15 minutes later. Police also believe that K. encountered his alleged victim at some point after 3 a.m. along the Dreisam River. According to what investigators have thus far found, police don't believe the two knew each other previously.
Maria L., whose family lives in the city of Pforzheim near Stuttgart, was biking home from a big party for medical students at the university's Natural Sciences Campus to her Catholic-run student dormitory. The next morning, a woman walking in the area discovered the woman's body in the river. She had been raped and drowned.
The perpetrator committed the crime at a site known to almost every resident of Freiburg who likes to take walks or has any interest in sports. It's a wide foot and bicycle path along the Dreisam River behind the stadium where local football team SC Freiburg plays. The valley is flanked by the hillsides of the Black Forest.
Bouquets of flowers and messages of condolence have been posted on a tree at the site. "Thank you for the laughter and all the light you brought us," reads one. At the foot of the tree, fresh candles could be seen burning at the base last Tuesday. The student would have turned 20 on December 6.
- Part 1: Killing in Germany Triggers Fresh Refugee Debate
- Part 2: 'Freiburg Was Like the Truman Show'