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German on trial for Muslim murder

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Alex W is led into court - his full name has not been released for fear of vigilante attacks

The husband of a pregnant Egyptian woman killed in a German courtroom has described how her alleged attacker stabbed her to death in front of him.

He testified as the trial of Alex W, a 29-year-old Russian-born German, opened in Dresden, in the same courtroom where Marwa Sherbini was killed in July.

The defendant had been there to appeal against a fine for calling Ms Sherbini a "terrorist" and an "Islamist".

Husband Elwy Ali Okaz said he had tried to shield his wife as the attack began.

Her alleged attacker had "continued to stab her when she was already lying on the floor", Mr Okaz said.

Elwy Ali Okaz
Elwy Ali Okaz tried to protect his pregnant wife from her attacker

Mr Okaz, who identified Alex W to the court as the killer, was himself stabbed as he tried to protect his wife and also accidentally shot in the leg by a security guard who initially believed him to be the attacker.

He arrived at court on crutches, wearing a badge showing his wife's face.

The attack caused outrage in the Muslim world, with many Muslim leaders accusing Germany of Islamophobia following the killing.

They said the country, which has the second-biggest Muslim population in Western Europe, had been too slow to condemn it.

Protection

BBC Berlin correspondent Steve Rosenberg says 200 police officers were deployed at the Dresden courthouse as the trial opened, to protect the defendant.

Alex W, who is charged with murder, attempted murder and dangerous bodily harm, has been the subject of death threats.

Anyone attending the hearing had to pass through airport-style scanners, and a bullet-proof glass screen was installed in the dock, our correspondent says.

Photographers crowded round as the alleged attacker was led into the courtroom in handcuffs - his face covered by a hood, a hat, sunglasses and a scarf, our correspondent adds.

He was then fined 50 euros ($75; £46) by the judge, Birgit Wiegand, for refusing to remove his sunglasses, although he did uncover the rest of his head.

Judge Wiegand told the court that the trial would try to get "to the bottom of the circumstances" surrounding Ms Sherbini's death.

Prosecutors say the defendant - an unemployed Russian-born German national - was motivated by a "hatred of non-Europeans and Muslims".

He reportedly suffers from depression. However, court-appointed psychiatric experts said they had not found any evidence of diminished responsibility.

'Hatred'

The case began with an argument in a playground in 2008.

Ms Sherbini, a pharmacist, is said to have asked the defendant to let her child use a playground swing he was sitting on. He allegedly refused and instead called her abusive names.

Protesters demand justice in Alexandria (26 October 2009)
Egyptians want the maximum possible sentence for the alleged killer

She later took the defendant to court and he was fined 780 euros ($1,170; £718) for defamation.

But when he returned to the courtroom for the appeal on 1 July this year, prosecutors say he smuggled in an 18cm (7in) kitchen knife and stabbed Ms Sherbini at least 16 times with it.

The 31-year-old, who was three-months pregnant with her second child, bled to death in full view of her husband and their three-year-old son.

The trial is expected to conclude by 11 November.

Axel Koehler, president of the German Central Council of Muslims, said his community expected a "strong conviction".

"We're following the trial with great interest, in particular because our women and girls are afraid and already feel discriminated against," he said.

Ms Sherbini, who wore a headscarf, was dubbed "the martyr of the Hijab". Thousands attended her funeral in Egypt, some chanting "Death to Germany", and there were also mass protests in Iran.

Egypt's ambassador to Germany, Ramzi Izz al-Din Ramzi, who was at the opening of the trial, called for a "speedy sentence, a just sentence commensurate with this heinous crime".



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SEE ALSO
Egyptian anger over slain mother
10 Jul 09 |  Middle East
Germany 'not silent' on stabbing
08 Jul 09 |  Middle East
Egypt mourns 'headscarf martyr'
06 Jul 09 |  Middle East

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