Hamburg (AFP) – A Palestinian jihadist who killed one man and wounded six other people in a German supermarket knife rampage last year was sentenced on Thursday to life in prison.
Ahmad Alhaw, 27, had admitted to the murder and assaults in the river port city of Hamburg.
In delivering the sentence, the judge noted the “particular severity” of the crime, lowering Alhaw’s chances of obtaining early release on parole.
Justice Norbert Sakuth said Alhaw, with his “unstable personality”, had acted alone after falling prey to the propaganda of the so-called Islamic State jihadist group, adding that “in this way the IS succeeded”.
Prosecutors told the court Alhaw had hoped to kill as many German Christians as possible to avenge the suffering of Muslims worldwide, and had hoped “he would die as a martyr”.
Alhaw entered a supermarket on July 28, snatched a 20-centimetre (eight-inch) knife from the shelves, unwrapped it and fatally stabbed a 50-year-old man.
As panic broke out, he slashed and stabbed at others inside and then outside the shop, shouting “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest), and also wounding a 50-year-old woman and four men.
“I saw him run toward me, covered in blood. He was radiating bloodlust,” a 20-year-old supermarket worker who locked himself in a backroom recounted in court.
Justice Sakuth said about the attacker that “if he could have, he would have killed more people”.
– Multiple warnings –
Outside the supermarket, seven mostly migrant bystanders confronted the screaming attacker, hurling rocks and chairs at him and then subduing him until police arrived.
The men — among them a 30-year-old man of Turkish descent who was wounded in the struggle — have since been celebrated and honoured for their courage.
One of them, Afghan asylum seeker Toufiq Arab, told Bild daily: “I’m not a hero, I only did my duty.”
The Islamist attack was Germany’s first since December 2016 when Tunisian Anis Amri ploughed a stolen truck through a Berlin Christmas market in an attack that claimed 12 lives.
Germany’s parliament decided this week that the Amri case will be subject of a special inquiry to assess how he was able to slip through the net of multiple security services before staging his bloody attack.
The Hamburg knife rampage too has led to charges that security services had failed to keep a close enough watch on Alhaw despite multiple warnings that he was radicalising.
– ‘God’s will’ –
Like Amri, Alhaw was due to have been deported after his asylum application was turned down, but the process was held up by a wait for Gaza identity documents.
Having been rejected for asylum in Norway, Sweden and Spain, he had arrived in Germany in 2015 and was moved to a Hamburg migrant accommodation centre.
A psychiatrist said Alhaw had told him after the attack that he was initially drawn to the West because of its open lifestyle.
At first he studied German, socialised and at times drank alcohol and smoked marijuana, said witnesses.
But Alhaw, who had watched IS propaganda videos online, grew deeply religious and increasingly distrustful of state authorities.
By 2016 he thought that he suddenly understood the Koran completely, rejected all previous temptations, and started looking at all other people as either true believers or non-believers, the psychiatrist said.
Alhaw said the knife attack had not been his decision but God’s will.
He surprised the court in a February 19 hearing when he appeared with his beard shaved off and for the first time showed remorse.
“Unfortunately I can’t turn back time,” he told the victims then. “All I can do is to ask you for forgiveness.”
Defence lawyer Christoph Burchard said Thursday that Alhaw “was in an unstable condition because of his life circumstances. I think he expected the verdict.”