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3 Turks Killed in Suspects Arson Attack by German Extremists

By Tyler Marshall
Los Angeles Times

BONN, Germany

In one of the worst assaults against foreigners in modern Germany, a 51-year-old Turkish woman and two Turkish girls died in a suspected arson attack early Monday, and police said that right-wing extremists claimed responsibility for the deaths.

At least nine others were injured, including a 9-month-old baby.

If investigations substantiate the claims -- made in a telephone call to police shortly after the first of two apartment houses in the small north German town of Moelln were set ablaze -- it would constitute the single highest death toll of any incident since the wave of right-wing attacks against foreigners first erupted in Germany last year.

Authorities in Moelln, about 30 miles east of Hamburg, said that they received an anonymous call shortly after midnight stating that an apartment building in the city's center, where several foreign families lived, was on fire. They said the caller ended his message with the words, "Heil Hitler."

Because of the reference to Hitler, the federal prosecutor's office immediately took over the case, on grounds that the attack constituted a threat to the national security. "This indicates that the unknown attackers want to re-establish a National Socialist dictatorship in Germany," declared Federal Prosecutor Alexander von Stahl.

A man, identified as Faruk Arslan, reportedly told police that the victims were his 51-year-old mother, Bahide Arslan; his 10-year-old daughter, Yeliz Arslan, and Ayse Yilmax, a 14-year-old niece visiting from Turkey.

The incident stunned residents of the sleepy town, sent new shock waves through an anxious nation already worried about the threat of political extremism to its democracy and generated a string of official condemnations and calls for action.

Several thousand people marched quietly in Berlin and Hamburg on Monday night to protest the attack. In the town of Moelln, Joachim Doerfler, the mayor, headed a silent procession of several hundred residents.

"The culprits from Moelln and other extremists show us in all urgency the need to do something," said Germany's president, Richard von Weizsaecker, in a prepared statement. "The state and its citizens are called upon to stand up to this violence."

Weizsaecker, one of the very few German political figures who frequently and openly has shown sympathy for victims of the attacks, was himself the victim of left-wing extremists earlier this month. He then was pelted with eggs, fruit and rocks as he addressed a massive rally in Berlin to protest the outbreak of xenophobia in Germany.

"It's a disgrace -- I can't think of any other way to express it," Chancellor Helmut Kohl said. "For every upstanding, law-abiding person in Germany, it is a shocking act."

Other than trying to stem the flood of foreigners attempting to take advantage of Germany's liberal law on political asylum, the country's politicians have, so far, seemed powerless in their efforts to halt the violence.

Despite the increased frequency of the incidents, chief government spokesman Dieter Vogel said that German law enforcement authorities had uncovered no evidence so far that either Monday's attack or any other incident carried out by mainly young Germans professing extreme right-wing political views were linked to a centrally controlled organization. "The evidence is that these are always spontaneous acts," he said.

Federal authorities report that more than 1, 800 violent incidents have been carried out so far this year by right-wing extremists, compared with 270 for the entire year of 1990.

Monday's victims brought the number of those known to have died at the hands of right-wing extremists so far this year to 15.

But Monday's incident differed in many ways from a majority of the other attacks.

Although the town of Moelln, like most German communities, now counts a number of asylum seekers among its residents, the victims of Monday's attack were from a long-established community of Turkish workers, who first began arriving in the early 1960s to work at a local foundry.

In a telephone interview, Moelln's mayor Doerfler said that the 650 Turks who reside in the town of about 17, 700, were "fully integrated into the community. ... Many of them are children of children who were born here. Until today, the mood in the town was good and they (Turkish residents) said themselves that they had not felt any threat."