BERLIN – The trial of a man accused of stabbing a pregnant Egyptian woman to death in a German court — an attack that outraged Muslims — opens Monday in the same courthouse, but under much greater security.
Some 200 police officers are to secure the Dresden state court, and bulletproof glass has been installed in the courtroom where the alleged assailant, identified only as Alexander W., goes on trial accused of murder, attempted murder and dangerous bodily harm.
Marwa al-Sherbini, 31, was giving evidence in July against a man charged with defamation for having called her a "terrorist" and "Islamist" when he attacked her. The young woman died after being stabbed 18 times. Her husband was also stabbed.
Members of al-Sherbini's family, including her husband, Elwy Ali Okaz, are to act as co-plantiffs in the trial, as is allowed under German law — allowing them to review evidence, file motions and question witnesses.
On Sunday, Egypt's president of the Lawyers' Syndicate, Hamdi Ahmed Khalifa, left for Germany to join the al-Sherbini family lawyers.
He told reporters that the defense team will "concentrate on refuting some of the German media's claims that the killer is mentally ill. We will demand the severest punishment for him."
The defendant Alexander W. is a jobless 29-year-old German citizen who was born in Russia and emigrated to Dresden a decade ago.
The July 1 killing of pharmacist al-Sherbini triggered protests in Egypt and Turkey, in large part due to what Muslims regarded as a lack of concern regarding the incident in Germany and the rest of the Western world.
Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her condolences to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on the sidelines of the Group of Eight summit in Italy this summer, but German officials generally appeared slow to respond to the killing. That was widely interpreted in the Muslim world as evidence of a deep-seated Islamophobia in Germany.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad highlighted as evidence of Western double-standards the contrast between an apparent lack of interest in the story and intense interest in the death of a young Iranian woman during anti-government protests in Tehran.
Ahead of the trial, Merkel's adviser for immigrant affairs spoke Friday with Egypt's ambassador to Germany. Maria Boehmer's office said the two agreed to stay in touch, given the tremendous interest in the trial "in both countries, as well as in the whole Arab world."
In their indictment, Dresden prosecutors said the defendant was driven by a "hatred of non-Europeans and Muslims." If convicted, he could face life in prison.
The defendant had originally taken al-Sherbini to court to challenge a $1,170 fine for defaming her in 2008 over a dispute on a playground.
Prosecutors say that in the courtroom he turned on al-Sherbini, stabbing her repeatedly with a seven-inch kitchen knife in front of her husband, 3-year-old son and eight courtroom officials.
Most German courts normally have no security measures and the defendant was able to smuggle the knife into the courtroom.
Okaz tried to intervene to protect his wife and was critically wounded when a security guard called to the scene shot him in the leg, apparently confusing him for the attacker.
The trial is scheduled to last 11 days. Participants were allowed to inspect the courtroom on Friday, according to a Web site operated by al-Sherbini's family and friends that aims to inform the public on the proceedings.