BERLIN (Reuters) - A man suspected of being a member of a group that still believes in Germany’s World War Two “Reich” went on trial in Nuremberg on Tuesday for the alleged murder of a police officer during a raid in Bavaria last year.
Members of the Reichsbuerger (Citizens of the Reich) group do not recognize modern-day Germany as a legitimate state. They insist the former, far larger “Deutsche Reich” is still alive despite Nazi Germany’s defeat.
The 49-year old suspect, identified only as Wolfgang P. due to German court rules, is accused of murder, attempted murder in three cases and inflicting serious bodily harm in two cases after he opened fire on police officers, a court spokesman said.
“He’ll face lifetime in prison if he is convicted of murder,” the spokesman said, adding that the accused declined to comment on the charges brought forward against him by the state prosecutor in court.
“The accused even declined to confirm his identity when asked by the judge so that the court had to literally check his ID card -- this is rather unusual,” the court spokesman said.
Defense lawyer Susanne Koller said, according to German media reports, that her client did not have the intent of killing the 32-year old police officer, adding that Wolfgang P. was taken by surprise when the police started the raid.
She added that the defendant did not identify himself as a Reichsbuerger and that he was distressed by the police officer’s death.
A psychiatrist who spoke to Wolfgang P. shortly after the raid told the court that the defendant said he had bought several weapons solely for the purpose of self-defense, adding that he was afraid of assaults by “institutions”.
After the deadly assault in the small Bavarian town of Georgensgmuend in October 2016, Germany’s BfV domestic intelligence agency decided to put the Reichsbuerger movement under observation.
The BfV estimates there were about 10,000 Reichsbuerger or “self-governors” in Germany in 2016, of whom 500 to 600 are considered far-right extremists.
The start of the trial came one day after German police on Monday raided the homes and workplaces in the northern state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern of a policeman and another person suspected of planning to capture and kill left-wing politicians because of their views on immigration .
Reporting by Michael Nienaber; Editing by Jeremy Gaunt