German arrested over deadly 1991 attack on asylum seekers

Peter S was prompted by his 'racist and right-wing extremist views,' prosecutors said

Samuel Yeboah, an asylum seeker from Ghana, was killed in 1991. AFP
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A man has been arrested in Germany over the cold case neo-Nazi killing of an immigrant after the collapse of the Berlin Wall.

The suspect, identified only as Peter S, is accused of entering a shelter for asylum seekers in Saarlouis, western Germany, where he poured petrol and started a fire.

Peter S, who was scheduled to appear in court on Monday, was prompted “by his racist and right-wing extremist views”, prosecutors said.

He was detained in Saarlouis, the state capital of Saarland, on charges of murder, attempted murder and arson with fatal consequences, the federal prosecutor's office said.

The arson, on September 19, 1991, came amid a rash of xenophobic attacks across the country after the reunification of East and West Germany.

The blaze spread rapidly up the stairs and trapped Samuel Yeboah, a 27-year-old asylum seeker from Ghana, in the attic. Mr Yeboah died of severe burns and smoke inhalation the same day.

Two other residents survived by jumping out of the window, suffering broken bones from their falls. The remaining 18 occupants were not hurt.

Prosecutors said that before the arson attack, Peter S had met other members of the far-right scene in a bar, discussing racist riots in the eastern town of Hoyerswerda that had begun days before.

“Participants in the conversation made clear that they would approve of carrying out attacks in Saarlouis as well,” prosecutors said.

Investigators believe that after the bar closed, Peter S went directly to the shelter and started the fire.

Peter S was born in 1971 in Sarrelouis, near the French border, and was a well-known figure in the local neo-Nazi scene, Der Spiegel reported.

It quoted investigators as saying that he took part in a far-right demonstration in 1996. He was reportedly long considered a suspect in the arson case and his home and workplace were searched in January 2021, but he was never detained due to a lack of evidence.

In the 31 years since Mr Yeboah's death, activists campaigned for the attack to be recognised as a political crime and for federal prosecutors to take over the investigation, which they did in 2020.

For nearly a week in September 1991, Hoyerswerda was the scene of assaults on refugees and foreign contract workers, including a petrol bomb attack on a block of flats housing asylum seekers.

More than 30 people were hurt in the course of the riots, which drew global headlines.

The following year, jeering crowds in the city of Rostock applauded hundreds of right-wing extremists as they threw stones and Molotov cocktails at a building housing asylum seekers.

In November 1992, in the northern town of Moelln, two right-wing militants launched arson attacks on the homes of two Turkish families in which a woman and two girls died.

And in 1993, far-right skinheads set fire to the house of a large Turkish family in the western city of Solingen, killing three girls and two women.

Updated: April 04, 2022, 12:41 PM