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Worldcrunch

Defending Islam, With Violence: Trial Of Salafist Man Rivets Germany

Article illustrative image Partner logo Murat K.'s trial in Bonn

BONN - "You have to use violence to defend Islamic values?" asks the judge.

"Yes, of course," Murat K. replies. Five months after he attacked police officers with a knife, the 26-year-old Salafist came clean in the courtroom: it was his duty, he said, to wound the police officers.

The officers in question are veterans, used to dealing with hooligans and rioting demonstrators, also very aggressive ones. They are not prone to being easily riled. That they should be the ones involved makes Murat K.’s case all the more unusual.

The wiry 49-year-old commander has been with the police’s operational readiness squad since 1998. Murat K. went for him with a knife, but missed.

The policeman whose job it was to get into the thick of the action with a camera and document what happened had 12 years of police experience. He received a knife wound.

Then there was the group leader: a self-possessed woman of 30 with a clear and precise way of speaking. She had been through May 1 demonstrations in Berlin several times. She describes what happened this way: "This was different from everything else. Here, it was a matter of life or death." She also received multiple stab wounds.

Her camera-wielding colleague says: "Imagine being attacked by a swarm of birds. That’s how the stones were coming at us." And the commander adds: "In all my years in the force, I have never experienced violence this extreme."

The violence exploded in front of the King Fahd Academy in Bonn on May 5, 2012, when several hundred Muslims were demonstrating against the far-right populist Pro NRW splinter party’s use of some caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. The police were trying to keep the populists and the Muslims separated, but a riot ensued, with militants throwing stones and bottles, even a manhole cover, at the police.

No fear

A young man with a long beard, wearing a light-colored caftan and carrying a knife, suddenly appeared among the officers. He went after the commander with the knife, but missed. He then went for the officer with the video camera, plunging the knife full force into his thigh. And then he turned on the female officer who had come to the help of her colleague. At this point he was overpowered. The entire thing can be seen on the police videos shown to those in the tribunal this past Wednesday at the Bonn District Courthouse.

Murat K., the man who began by throwing stones and then perpetrated the knife attacks, is a Turkish citizen born in the town of Eschwege in the northeastern part of the state of Hesse. His family, which is not particularly religious, has been living in Germany for decades. The charges against him in Bonn are: serious breach of the peace, grievous bodily harm and resisting law enforcement officers. Murat K. told the court he would have no compunctions about doing again what he did on May 5.

The judge is making a big effort. He speaks to the defendant calmly; he’s even friendly in his effort to understand. He has given Murat K. permission to wear the black head covering he has wound around his head pirate-style. He does not slap him with a fine when he refuses to stand before the court, like many other Muslims who do not recognize its jurisdiction. "Standing, not standing, one way or the other the Court’s dignity will not be affected," said Judge Klaus Reinhoff.

His approach gets Murat K. talking. The judge asks him to "imagine you are a policeman and it’s your job to ensure order. In your eyes, would you be a justified target?"

"Yes," says Murat K., continuing: "The German state allows caricatures of Muhammad to be shown, so the police are automatically involved."

But what if a Court said it was okay for the caricatures to be shown, the judge asked. "Your values make it possible to insult the Prophet. Islam prohibits that. The price for doing that in Islam is the death sentence. You have your freedom of opinion, but as a Muslim, a believer, Islam must be my opinion."

It was at this point that Judge Reinhoff asked: "You have to use violence to defend Islamic values?" and Murat K. replied: "Yes, of course."

The policewoman now has a 10-centimeter (4 inch) scar on one leg; the cameraman’s scar is 16 cm, or over 6 inches, long. He is still in therapy and can only work four hours a day. The commander who wasn’t able to keep his squad members protected suffered from sleep disturbances after the riot, which all told led to 35 officers of the law being wounded. "It makes you think," he says.

Johannes Pausch, Murat K.’s lawyer, had suggested to his client that he could apologize to the wounded officers. Murat K. did not apologize. He believes that right is on his side. Pausch stated that his client was a Salafist, a fundamentalist.

Murak K. stated: "I’m not afraid of punishment. I’m not afraid of deportation. I want that to be very clear." The verdict is expected next week.

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