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Guilty Verdict for All in Germany’s Deadliest Neo-Nazi Crime

October 13, 1995 GMT

DUESSELDORF, Germany (AP) _ A court today found four young right-wing extremists guilty of murdering five Turkish women and children in the deadliest attack on foreigners in Germany since the Nazi era.

The five-judge panel convicted the four of setting a fire that swept through a house in Solingen two years ago as a Turkish family slept inside. Three little girls and two young women were killed.

Markus Gartmann, 25, was sentenced to 15 years in prison, and the three others each received 10-year terms _ the maximum they could get because they were juveniles at the time of the fire. Gartmann had faced a maximum sentence of life in prison.

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Chief Judge Wolfgang Steffen repeatedly called for order as the father of Christian Buchholz, 22, snorted with rage, kicked the chair of a guard and raced out of the courtroom, slamming the door behind him.

The youngest defendant, 18-year-old Felix Koehnen, screamed at the judges: ``You swine, I am innocent!″

The May 29, 1993 firebombing shamed Germany before the world. Germans marched across the country to show their sorrow. In Solingen, Turks rioted for days.

German news media called it one of the most important trials since Germany’s unification in 1990. Federal investigators launched a nationwide manhunt. The country felt purged when, days after the attack, the four Solingen youths were arrested.

But the prosecution soon ran into trouble, and some had feared that the court would return innocent verdicts _ putting a severe strain on slowly improving relations between Germans and the country’s 2 million Turks.

Prosecutors in the 18-month trial had based much of their case on the confessions of two defendants, one of whom has since recanted. The trial was marked by contradictory testimony and little material evidence.

Defense attorneys alleged that overzealous investigators compromised the case under pressure to get a conviction.

Xenophobic violence that erupted in Germany after its 1990 reunification has subsided some since the Solingen attack, as has racial mistrust between Turks and Germans.

But the trial was still tense, and authorities moved it to a high-security courtroom used for terrorists out of fear that the defendants could come under attack.

About 200 people gathered outside the court to await the verdict, carrying placards reading, ``We Demand Justice,″ and ``Maximum Penalty for neo-Nazis.″

As the sentences were relayed in whispers to the mostly Turkish crowd, many mumbled their dissatisfaction, saying that Gartmann should have received life in prison.

``The sentences show that Germany has not learned from its fascist Hitler past,″ said Suat Kolsuz, 43, who has lived in Germany 16 years and said he still does not feel at home.

Prosecutors charged that after a night of heavy drinking, Gartmann, Koehnen and Buchholz fought with two Yugoslavs they mistook for Turks.

The trio then met up with Christian Reher, now 19, who lived across the street from the Turks, prosecutors alleged. Reher, they said, proposed torching the home. Friends of Reher testified that days before the attack, he had said the Turks’ home would burn.

Prosecutors allege the four bought a flammable liquid at an all-night gas station, Koehnen poured it under the front door and Reher lighted it with burning newspapers.

Screams filled the house as the 14 Turks inside woke up to flames and smoke. Durmus and Mevlude Genc, who came to Germany as ``guest workers,″ lost the heart of their family: daughters Gursun, 27, and Hatice, 18; granddaughters Huelya, 9, and Saime, 4; and a 12-year-old niece, Gulestan.

Gartmann, who had told police that the four committed the crime, withdrew his confession in March, saying police forced it out of him by threatening to throw him in a cell with jailed Turks.

Reher initially said the four lighted the fire, then insisted he acted alone. Koehnen and Buchholz maintained they were innocent.