BERLIN — Two young German men have admitted that they firebombed two apartments last week in northern Germany, killing three foreigners, the country's chief prosecutor said Tuesday.
"The murders in connection with the arson attacks . . . appear now to be resolved," declared Federal Prosecutor Alexander von Stahl in Karlsruhe. "The results of investigations so far lead us to believe . . . that no further persons were present at the scene of the crime."
The men, Michael Peters, 25, and Lars Christiansen, 19, are both from the area of Moelln, a town about 30 miles northeast of Hamburg, where the attack took place. Both are expected to be formally charged with three counts of murder, several counts of attempted murder and two counts of arson. The maximum sentence for murder in Germany is life imprisonment.
A 51-year-old Turkish grandmother and two Turkish girls died in the Nov. 23 attack.
The circumstances surrounding the assault--the first against members of the country's well-integrated Turkish community--seemed to shock the government out of a prolonged slumber: It immediately began a crackdown to halt the wave of violence. For the first time, for example, the investigation into an attack on foreigners was headed by the federal prosecutor, because authorities said the assailants' goal was the destruction of the democratic state.
An anonymous caller--identified Tuesday by officials as Peters--told police that two apartments in Moelln had been attacked and ended his message with the words, "Heil Hitler."
Both Peters and Christiansen were arrested and questioned within days of the attack. Christiansen was released but rearrested Monday after an unidentified eyewitness to the attack came forward.
Peters, from the small village of Gudow, a few miles southeast of Moelln, was described by locals as an immature, eccentric individual who came from a broken home and lived in a small, cluttered apartment with dogs and a large tropical spider. The German news agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur reported that Peters tried to compensate for his small, slight build by wearing jackboots and heavy jackets.
One villager described him as "a little runt." He was known in the community as a "skinhead"--a synonym for aggressive, violence-prone youths in Germany holding xenophobic, anti-Semitic views.
Investigators said Peters is believed to have formed a gang of a dozen right-wing extremist youths earlier this year. Group members, including Peters, are suspected of a Sept. 5 attack on an asylum seeker's home in the neighboring state of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, as well as assaults on foreigners in his own state of Schleswig-Holstein.
Christiansen, who resides in Moelln and worked as an apprentice in a supermarket, is believed to have joined Peters' gang last September. While local police knew him as someone who had once fought with foreigners, they had recently struck his name from a list of troublemakers.
The manager of the market where he worked and teachers who taught Christiansen said he was a quiet, unassuming youth and reacted with shock and disbelief at his confession.
In a related development, Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said Tuesday that in cases of murder, manslaughter and arson related to political extremism, those at the scene who urge on the culprits will face the same legal punishment as those who actually commit the crime.