Suspect in killing of German politician was jailed for attempted bombing

Kate Connolly in Berlin
Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

A man with links to rightwing extremist groups who once planted a pipe bomb outside a home for asylum seekers is a suspect in the murder of a German politician this month, security sources have said.

The man who was arrested at the weekend in connection with the shooting of Walter Lübcke on 2 June is believed to have an association with the militant neo-Nazi group Combat 18 among others.

He was convicted of the attempted pipe bomb attack in 1993 and sentenced to prison, and a decade ago he was arrested on the margins of a neo-Nazi demonstration.

Identified only as Stephan E, in line with the custom in Germany, the 45-year-old is categorised by intelligence services as a rightwing extremist with violent tendencies.

A spokesman for the federal prosecutor’s office, which took over the Lübcke murder case from regional investigators on Monday, said: “The suspicion that we’re dealing with a rightwing extremist, or rightwing terrorist case, has hardened. We have taken over the investigation. The prosecutor’s office in Kassel is no longer responsible.”

Lübcke, 65, a member of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, was found outside his house with a fatal bullet wound to the head. The case has shocked Germany due to its brutality as well as the suspicions that it might have been linked to the victim’s outspoken pro-refugee stance.

In 2015 when the arrival of just under a million refugees to Germany sparked tensions across the country, Lübcke faced death threats after condemning protests outside a refugee shelter.

Investigators say they consider Stephan E to be close to the Hesse branch of the far-right National Democratic party (NPD) as well as having contact with Combat 18. The 18 in the group’s name refers to the first and eighth letters of the alphabet – A and H – far-right code for Adolf Hitler.

The suspect received a prison sentence when he was 20 for planting a pipe bomb in a burning car outside a shelter for asylum seekers in Hohenstein-Steckenroth, in the state of Hesse. Residents extinguished the fire and the bomb was safely detonated before it could explode.

Sixteen years later he was arrested on a far-right march that attacked an event by the association of German trade unions in Dortmund, and sentenced to seven months’ probation for breaching the peace.

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He was arrested at his house in Kassel in the early hours of Saturday morning following a two-week hunt for Lübcke’s murderer. Authorities say DNA traces found in Lübcke’s clothing matched DNA samples of the suspect held by the federal criminal police office, the BKA.

Since Lübcke’s death, posts by rightwing extremists and neo-Nazis have appeared on Facebook and Twitter appearing to celebrate his murder. Police are investigating the identities of those behind the posts.

Combat 18 was considered at the turn of this century to be one of the most significant far-right groups in Germany. Its members typically hoarded weapons, spread far-right propaganda and compiled bomb-making guides.

It has been connected in the past with the network Blood and Honour, which assisted the far-right terrorist group National Socialist Underground, whose surviving member, Beate Zschäpe, was convicted last year and given a life sentence for a series of racially motivated killings.