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German Murder Trial Is Focus Of Anger In Islamic World

Women carry a symbolic coffin with a picture of Marwa al-Shirbiny during a protest in Istanbul.
Women carry a symbolic coffin with a picture of Marwa al-Shirbiny during a protest in Istanbul.
(RFE/RL) -- It is a story that has gripped both the Muslim and Western worlds.

It began in 2008, in the German city of Dresden, when an Egyptian-born woman, Marwa al-Shirbiny, asked a man to make room for her 3-year-old son on a children's playground swing.

The man, Alexander Wiens, responded by calling al-Shirbiny -- who was wearing an Islamic headscarf at the time -- a "terrorist" and a "slut."

Al-Shirbiny summoned the police, and Wiens was subsequently fined the equivalent of $480 on charges of verbal abuse.

When Wiens attempted to appeal the conviction this July, al-Shirbiny, then pregnant, attended the hearing. As she was leaving the courtroom, the court records charge, Wiens leapt at her and stabbed her 18 times with a kitchen knife.

Her husband, Elwi Ali Okaz, tried to protect her, and also suffered multiple stab wounds.

To make matters worse, in the melee a policeman shot Okaz in the leg, apparently assuming that the Egyptian man was the attacker, rather than the German defendant.

The murder trial of Wiens, a 29-year-old ethnic German born in Russia, began in Dresden October 26 in the same courtroom where the murder took place. The dead woman's husband, Okaz, attended on a pair of crutches.

Ayyub Axel Koehler, the head of Germany's Central Muslim Council, told Reuters before the trial started that Muslims everywhere are intensely interested in this case.

"This trial is getting huge attention in the Muslim world,” Koehler said. “There were riots in some Islamic countries because of this murder. So it's up to us Germans to defend our reputation."

Koehler, a convert to Islam, was referring to demonstrations in Egypt and Iran, and Tehran's request for the United Nations to become involved.

He also said that Germany's Muslim community -- the biggest in Europe after France -- has been badly shaken by the affair.

"We're looking at this trial with great anticipation, because our women and girls are obviously scared,” he said. “They are already being discriminated against in public and looked down on."

Koehler said Germany's reputation has suffered badly, and that politicians have ignored Islamophobia and its consequences in society.

State prosecutor Christian Avenarius said in the course of the trial that it was clear the accused was motivated by a fanatic hatred of foreigners.

A top aide to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Commissioner for Minorities Maria Boehmer, called on October 26 for calm, saying she knew that this "terrible deed" caused horror both in Germany and Egypt, as well as many parts of the Arab world.

She said it showed that Germans must "engage daily" to fight against racism, and work for peaceful coexistence.

Security is reported to be tight at the Dresden courthouse, with some 200 policemen surrounding the building. The accused has his hands and feet chained together, and is sitting behind bulletproof glass.

Egypt's ambassador to Berlin, Ramzy Ezzeldin, attended the opening of the trial, telling journalists as he arrived that he has "great trust" in German justice.