WIESBADEN: An Iraqi man was sentenced to life in jail by a German court on Wednesday for the rape and murder of a teenage girl that fuelled far-right protests against a mass influx of mostly Muslim migrants.

The Alternative for Germany (AfD) party and other far-right groups have seized on the brutal killing of 14-year-old Susanna Maria Feldman in their campaign against Chancellor Angela Merkel’s asylum policy.

The accused, rejected asylum seeker Ali Bashar, 22, was convicted of the killing and handed the maximum sentence of life in prison by the court in Wiesbaden, the city where the murder took place in May last year.

The Iraqi man battered, raped and strangled the schoolgirl to death in a wooded area near railway tracks on May 23. The court heard he then sent false messages from Susanna’s smartphone indicating she had left for an impromptu trip to Paris. Her body was only found on June 6 in a shallow grave covered with leaves, twigs and soil. By this time, Bashar and his family had left Germany and returned to Arbil in northern Iraq.

The accused was however arrested by Kurdish security forces and, even though Berlin and Baghdad have no formal extradition treaty, taken back to Germany. Federal police chief Dieter Romann personally joined the controversial operation, as newspaper front pages showed pictures of commandos escorting a heavily restrained Bashar off an aircraft.

Bashar later confessed the killing but denied the rape, claiming that he and the girl had consensual sex before she fell, got angry and threatened to call the police. In a separate trial, Bashar is accused of twice raping an 11-year-old girl, who was believed to have also been sexually assaulted by an Afghan youth.

The Bashar case put renewed pressure on Merkel’s government over the decision to keep open German borders at the height of Europe’s refugee crisis. The far-right has voiced fury about cases of sexual violence committed by recent migrants and other foreign nationals.

Bashar, his parents and siblings arrived in Germany in 2015, at the peak of the influx that would bring more than a million asylum seekers, mostly from the Middle East and Africa. His asylum request was rejected in late 2016, but he obtained a temporary residence permit pending his appeal.

During this time, he came to police attention for fights, alleged robbery and possession of an illegal switchblade.

Published in Dawn, July 11th, 2019