BERLIN -- The first time André H., 27, torched a car in Berlin was on June 7, 2011 at around 3 a.m. His modus operandi remained the same over the next two months targeting the expensive Audi, Mercedes, and BMW brands that he himself, an occasional worker, could not afford.
While the vehicles burned, H. was already on his way to torch another, or heading home by bike, subway or bus. By Aug. 27, he had burned 67 cars and damaged 35 others around Berlin, with the total bill amounting to millions of euros.
Last Friday, Berlin police arrested the alleged arsonist, who at first admitted to only one incident but confessed to the full extent of the activity after being confronted with CCTV footage. According to the police, H. who is psychologically fragile but has apparently never received therapy acted out of frustration at his lack of success, money troubles, and a kind of diffused social envy at those who supposedly had it better than him. When he got a temp job in late August, he stopped the activity.
Prior to his arrest, André H., who was on social benefits, lived in a small apartment with his mother and invalid sister, according to Die Welt sources. A neighbor stated that when his mother became seriously ill he reached the limit of what he could stand. A police officer stated that it seemed to him [André H.] that things were going a lot better for others, as symbolized by ownership of the three brands of car that he repeatedly torched. He seems to have wanted to punish people who were better off financially.
It remains unclear if H. realized that he could have killed people when, for example, on July 28, he burnt a car in a carport and the flames reached the roof of an apartment building. A few days later, he burned several vehicles at a car rental business. The cars were parked near a gas pump, and residents of a nearby old peoples home had to be evacuated. No one was injured in the incidents.
One thing is clear: the majority of the spate of car torchings in Berlin 550 so far this year were not carried out by H. but rather by left-wing political extremists and imitators. André H., who is responsible for about a fifth of the car torchings in Berlin in 2011, faces up to 15 years in jail.
Read the full story in German by M. Behrendt, D. Ehrentraut, J. Wiedemann and S. Pletl
*Newsbites are digest items, not direct translations