Murder of Marwa El-Sherbini
On 1 July 2009, Marwa Ali El-Sherbini (Egyptian Arabic:
مروه على الشربينى), an Egyptian
woman and German resident, was killed during an appeal hearing at a
court of law in Dresden, Germany. She was stabbed by Alex Wiens an
ethnic German immigrant from Russia, against whom she had testified in
a criminal case for verbal abuse. El-Sherbini's husband, who was
present at the hearing, tried to intervene and was mistakenly shot by
a police officer who was called to the court room.
Wiens was arrested at the crime scene and subsequently tried for
murder and attempted murder. He was found guilty of both charges, with
the verdict qualifying the murder of El-Sherbin as a heinous crime
because it was committed in front of a child, while attacking another
person who tried to intervene. The judge stated that the perpetrator
was motivated by hostility and prejudice against a race and religion.
Wien was sentenced to life imprisonment.
The death of El-Sherbini immediately resulted in international
reactions, with the most vocal responses coming from predominantly
Muslim nations. The Egyptian public and media focused attention on the
religious and racial hatred aspect of the killing, especially as the
initial confrontation between the victim and perpetrator had happened
because she wore an Islamic headscarf.
In response to anti-German sentiments and public protests in Egypt
and other countries, the German government issued a statement of
condolence nine days after the incident. Wiens's trial for murder and
attempted murder occurred under strict security measures and was
observed by national and international media, diplomats and legal
Marwa El-Sherbini was born in 1977 in Alexandria, Egypt, to the
chemists Ali El-Sherbini and Laila Shams. In 1995, she graduated from
El Nasr Girls' College, where she had acted as a student speaker. El-Sherbini
went on to study pharmacy at Alexandria University, obtaining a
bachelor's degree in pharmaceutical sciences in 2000. From 1992 to
1999, she was a member of the Egypt national handball team.
In 2005, El-Sherbini moved with her husband, Elwy Ali Okaz, to
Bremen, Germany. In 2008, the couple and their two-year-old son moved
to Dresden, where Okaz, a lecturer at Minufiya University, obtained a
doctoral research position at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular
Cell Biology and Genetics. El-Sherbini worked at the University
Hospital Dresden and at a local pharmacy as a part of an accreditation
programme to practice pharmacy in Germany.
Together with others, El-Sherbini founded a registered voluntary
association with the aim of establishing an Islamic cultural and
education centre in Dresden. At the time of her death, El-Sherbini was
three months pregnant, expecting her second child.
Alex Wiens (Russian: Алекс Винс, also known as Alexander Weins) was
born in 1980 in Perm, Russia. After leaving school, he completed a
vocational training programme as a warehouseman.
In 1999, after a conscripts' medical examination, Wiens was
exempted from compulsory military service in the Russian armed forces;
it was stated that Wiens probably has suffered from a severe and
In 2003, he immigrated to Germany and gained German citizenship as
a result of his ethnic origin. In Germany, he worked as a builder and
caretaker, but had been living on welfare benefits for the long-term
unemployed at the time of the murder. In November 2009, at the time of
sentencing, Wiens was 28 years old, unmarried with no children.
Verbal abuse and court case for defamation
On 21 August 2008, Wiens and El-Sherbini met at a public playground
in Dresden's Johannstadt district, where Wiens's niece and El-
Sherbini's son were playing. During a quarrel over whose child should
be using the playground's swing, Wiens began shouting verbal abuse at
El-Sherbini. El-Sherbini who was wearing an Islamic headscarf, was
called "Islamist", "terrorist" and (according to one report) "slut".
Other people present tried to intervene, but Wiens vehemently
continued the verbal abuse for several minutes, directing epithets in
Russian and German at the Russian-speaking bystanders who attempted to
reason with him. El-Sherbini called the police on a bystander's mobile
phone and within a few minutes four police officers arrived in two
vehicles at the scene. El-Sherbini and Wiens were questioned; El-Sherbini
was subsequently driven away in one of the police vehicles.
Wiens was charged with defamation and given a penalty order to pay
a fine of €330. After formally objecting and refusing to pay the fine,
Wiens was tried at the district court of Dresden. He was found guilty
by the court and fined €780 in November 2008.
However, during the trial Wiens claimed mitigating circumstances
for the act of insulting El-Sherbini, suggesting that "people like her"
were not really human beings and therefore incapable of being insulted.
The public prosecutor appealed the verdict, aiming at a custodial
sentence, due to the openly xenophobic character of the incident.
Wiens also appealed the verdict and was subsequently granted a court-appointed
defence counsel. His counsel intended to withdraw the appeal before
the scheduled hearing at the regional court, but Wiens objected to
Appeal case and fatal attack in courtroom
At the appeal hearing at the regional court in Dresden, 1 July
2009, nine people were present in the courtroom: three judges, the
prosecutor, Wiens as the defendant, his court-appointed defence
counsel, El-Sherbini as witness for the prosecution, and her husband
and son as observers. No security personnel were present and no
security searches of individuals and their possessions were carried
out; this was a common procedure for cases without anticipated
security concerns or detained persons present.
During the trial, the defendant Wiens appeared reserved but was
noted for extreme statements. He said that Muslims were monsters to
him and asked the court why they were not deported after the 9-11-attacks.
He stated that German people should not mingle with foreigners and
declared that he would vote for the far right National Democratic
Party of Germany. The judge then requested a verbatim record, while
the defence counsel tried to mediate. Wiens continued in this fashion,
prompting the judge to ask whether he had ever visited a concentration
Following Wiens's defence presentation, El-Sherbini testified to
the court. After El-Sherbini had testified, the judge asked whether
there were any further questions. Wiens replied and asked why above
all El-Sherbini was in Germany. The question was rejected by the judge;
Wiens responded with a further question to which the defence counsel
motioned for recess. El-Sherbini was not intending to wait until the
end of the hearing and tried to leave. When she, her husband, and
their three-year-old son were at the door, Wiens suddenly attacked El-Sherbini
with a kitchen knife with 18 cm (7 in) long blade, which he apparently
had taken into the courtroom in a backpack.
El-Sherbini received more than 15 stab wounds to the upper body and
arm; the attack was carried out in such a forceful and sudden manner
that it resulted in a notable absence of defence wounds. While trying
to protect his wife, El-Sherbini's husband Okaz was stabbed at least
16 times to the head, neck, upper body and arm. Wiens's defence
counsel tried to help El-Sherbini by obstructing Wiens with chairs and
a table. The victim's three-year-old son was injured while being
ushered to safety.
The attack happened at 10:23 am, time-stamped by the judge having
raised a security alarm. A police officer who was in the court
building testifying in an unrelated case, was called to the scene by
the commotion; however he mistook Okaz for the attacker and shot him
in the lower leg.
Wiens was apprehended on the spot, after one of the judges pointed
out that not Okaz but Wiens was the assailant; while under arrest
Wiens begged the police officers to shoot him dead. Okaz, critically
wounded in the stabbing attack, was in a coma for two days. He was
subsequently treated for several weeks in a hospital near Dresden for
the stabbing and shooting injuries. El-Sherbini died in the court
building at 11:07 am, succumbing to her injuries.
Wiens was held on remand on the suspicion of murder of El-Sherbini
and attempted murder of Okaz. He was formally charged with murder,
attempted murder and grievous
bodily harm by the public prosecutor's office on 25 August 2009.
perfidiousness and malice (based on hatred against non-Europeans
and Muslims) as qualifying characteristics for the murder charge.
An application for a change of venue
by Wiens's defence lawyer was refused by the
upper regional court. Following a psychiatric assessment, full
criminal responsibility was assumed; however, as the defendant had
been diagnosed by Russian doctors to suffer from severe and chronic
psychotic conditions, prosecutors requested relevant information
from the Russian authorities prior to the trial. The requested
documents arrived shortly before the end of the murder trial, without
affecting its outcome.
The trial at the upper regional court in Dresden began on 26
October 2009. It took place under strict security precautions due to
alleged death threats to Wiens. All concurrent trials were transferred
to other local venues, due to the security concerns, the great
interest by the national and international media, and the public. El-Sherbini's
widower, brother and parents acted in the role of 'co-claimant' and
were represented by eight lawyers.
On the first day of the trial, the entire prosecution counsel
constituted of eight lawyers from Germany, France, and Egypt was
present in court; the defendant arrived in court shrouded behind a
mask, sunglasses, hat, and a hood. The judge asked the defendant to
remove his head attire and to confirm his name and date of birth. The
defendant complied, except for removing his sunglasses, for which he
was fined for
contempt of court. The defence counsel motioned for the judges to
be removed from the trial on the grounds of bias as they were
colleagues of witnesses and worked near the crime scene. This was
denied by a separate panel that had ruled on this motion.
Okaz testified on the first day of the trial.
Further witnesses during the first week of the trial included an
medical examiner on the causes of the victim's death, the judge
who had presided over the trial at the regional court on 1 July 2009,
another judge (Schöffe)
who had co-presided over the aforementioned trial, a social worker on
the defendant's previous behaviour, the court-appointed counsel who
had previously represented the defendant, a court security officer,
and the judge of the defamation trial at the district court.
Witnesses in the second week of the trial included people present
in the original confrontation on the playground
and the police officers responding to the attack on 21 August 2008.
The police officer who had mistakenly shot Okaz exercised the
right to remain silent during the murder trial, as a criminal
investigation against him was ongoing at the time.
At the beginning of the third day of the trial, Wiens incurred a
self-inflicted injury by banging his head against a table.
He was diagnosed with
haematomas and a suspected
traumatic brain injury, but was judged fit to stand trial after a
hospital-based medical examination. While continuing with noncompliant
and destructive behaviour, Wiens was temporarily restrained by nine
security officers in court.
The closing arguments were heard on 9 and 10 November 2009. The
prosecution and the co-plaintiffs argued for a conviction for murder
murder with the qualification of heinous crime. The defence applied for a conviction for manslaughter
and attempted manslaughter, arguing that the killing was in the heat
of the moment and that the defendant may have a
paranoid personality disorder.
The verdict was delayed because the requested medical information from
Russian authorities that arrived 9 November 2009 attested "undifferentiated schizophrenia"
in 2000, thereby requiring additional testimony by a medical expert
On 11 November 2009, Wiens was found guilty of the murder of El-Sherbini
and the attempted murder of Okaz, and sentenced to
life imprisonment. Judge Birgit Wiegand stated that the court had
found Wiens guilty of a heinous crime, because the offence was carried out in front of the child,
against two people, in a treacherous way, and in a court of law.
It meant that Wiens received the maximum sentence for this crime.
Wiens appealed the conviction; however the appeal was rejected by the
Federal Court of Justice.
In a decision published on 18 June 2010, the fifth criminal division
of the court of justice in Leipzig stated that the appeal was
unfounded and that thereby the verdict and sentence of the regional
court in Dresden is final as a matter of criminal law.
for victim's family
In October 2009 in an out-of-court discussion,
lawyers on behalf of El-Sherbini's family and widower approached the
Ministry of Justice of the State of Saxony about compensation.
In the verdict on 11 November 2009, Judge Birgit
Wiegand granted the claimant's request (Adhäsionsantrag, § 406
StPO) to claim for damages against the defendant in an 'adherent case'
within the remit of this criminal case. It established — without a
separate trial for a private law claim — that Wiens has an obligation
to compensate Okaz and El-Sherbini's beneficiaries for having harmed
Okaz and killed El-Sherbini.
Investigation of shooting of Elwy Ali Okaz
The shooting of El-Sherbini's husband Okaz by the
police officer, who mistook him for the attacker, was cited by El-Sherbini's
brother as indicative of racism in Germany. Following a complaint, a
criminal investigation against the Bundespolizei officer who
shot Okaz was launched. In October 2009, a criminal investigation for
involuntary manslaughter and denial of assistance was launched against
the judge who presided over the July trial, and against the president
of the regional court.
On 29 December 2009, the public prosecutor's office
in Dresden announced that all investigations had been closed on 21
December 2009 without indictment, as no suspicion of a criminal
offence could be substantiated. Prosecutors argued that it must have
been particularly difficult to assess the situation for the
intervening police officer, because when he entered the room "Elwy
Okaz and Alex Wiens were both covered in blood and Elwy Okaz had just
managed to grab the handle of the knife with his hand, making it
appear as though he was the attacker". There were further assessment
difficulties because "the actual attacker—Wiens—was holding the blade
of the knife, which added to the impression that he was the one being
attacked". The prosecutors' conclusion was that shooting of Okaz was a
In January 2010, a lawyer acting for El-Sherbini's
family filed a complaint against the prosecutors' decisions to close
the investigations against the police officer, the judge presiding in
the 1 July 2009 trial and the regional court president.
German media and public reaction to the crime
The killing was reported on 1 July 2009 in German
radio and television and in print media on the following day. In line
with common practice regarding reporting in the German media about
crime and legal proceedings, El-Sherbini was referred to as "32[sic]-year
old" witness in a Deutschlandfunk report broadcasted on 1 July. The
Minister of Justice for Saxony, Geert Mackenroth, who had visited the
crime scene on the same day, publicly expressed his "deep compassion
for the victim's family, for the victim herself". Another politician
called for an investigation and the Association of Judges in Saxony (Sächsischer
Richterbund) demanded a review of security procedures in court
Writing in The Guardian, Anja Seeliger
commented that "the German media initially reported on the case at the
back page", and only in the light of the vociferous protests by
thousands of Egyptians in Cairo, "the German federal government, which
had kept silent for nearly a week, issued words of sorrow."
Response by Jewish and Muslim organisations
The General Secretaries of Germany's Muslim and
Jewish Councils visited El-Sherbini's husband in hospital on 6 July
2009. Stephan Kramer, General Secretary of the Central Council of Jews
in Germany stated: "You don't have to be Muslim to oppose anti-Muslim
behavior, and you don't have to be Jewish to oppose anti-Semitism. We
must stand together against such inhumanity."
Kramer later wrote "... as a Jew I know that anyone
who attacks a person because of their race, nationality or religion is
not only attacking the minority, they are attacking democratic society
as a whole." He also deplored the "largely unchecked hate propaganda
The Central Council of Muslims in Germany suggested
that the death of El-Sherbini was a result of a growing "Islamophobia",
evident in many Internet discussion boards. They called upon Muslims
not to instrumentalise the woman's death. Egyptian researchers at the
University of Dresden stated they had not been subject to
discrimination and that they see the killing as an isolated incident.
A local Islamic association in Dresden stated that their planned
centre for cultural exchange will be named after El-Sherbini, to
promote mutual understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims.
On 6 July 2009, about 2,000 Muslims of the Egyptian
community and other nationalities in Germany held funeral prayers for
El-Sherbini, in Dar Al-Salam Mosque, in Berlin. Five days latter a
public memorial was organized by civil rights groups in Dresden; it
was attended by more than 1,000 people, including the Egyptian
ambassador and officials from the state of Saxony; white roses and
photos of El-Sherbini and her family were placed outside Dresden City
About the same time, the Max Planck Institute for
Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, where El-Sherbini's husband
researches, issued a statement on the occasion of the official
ceremony, expressing shock and sympathy. This was preceded by the Max
Planck Society having strongly condemned the attack on 8 July, by
stating: "The fact that the attack was racially motivated is
especially distressing to us, considering that the Max Planck Society
is a scientific research organisation with staff members from the most
In December 2009, the Ministry of Justice in Saxony
announced plans to commemorated the death of El-Sherbini with a
memorial plaque in the regional court building. This plaque will state
both in German and Arabic language: "[Marwa El-Sherbini] She fell
victim to Islamophobia and xenophobia. With dignity and commendable
moral courage she withstood this."
International reactions to killing
El-Sherbini's death caused considerable public and
media attention in Egypt, accompanied by strong anti-German sentiments.
Egypt's Prosecutor General Abdel Meguid Mahmud announced that a
prosecutor from Alexandria was to be dispatched to Germany to assist
in the investigation, and the Egyptian Pharmacists' Association called
for a boycott of German drugs.
At El-Sherbini's funeral in Alexandria, mourners
referred to her as "a 'martyr' of the head scarf" and accused Germany
of "racism" and "Islamophobia." Mourners carried banners criticising
both German and Egyptian authorities' reactions to the crime. Egyptian
police temporarily cordoned off the German embassy in Cairo to protect
it from angry protesters.
In response to the anti-German sentiments and
public protests in Egypt and elsewhere, the German government
eventually issued a statement of condolence. Some Egyptian
commentators took a reconciling approach. Writing in the opinion
section of Al-Ahram Weekly, Abdel-Moneim Said called on those
who mourn for Marwa El-Sherbini "not [to fall] into the same morass of
bigotry and hatred that killed her," but to "create Arab-Muslim-European
fronts, together with other faiths, to stand up against fanaticism,
bigotry and discrimination on both sides."
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad blamed the
German government for El-Sherbini's murder and called for
international condemnation of Germany. In a letter to UN Secretary
General Ban Ki-moon, Ahmadinejad demanded firm action against Germany
and stated that "there is a strong view that the crime was a pre-planned
attempt engineered by the judicial system and security forces."
reactions to murder trial
Interviewed by Deutschlandfunk radio, Al Jazeera
correspondent to Germany Aktham Suliman said that their viewers
watched the trial closely, because they were disaffected by the
initial reaction in Germany to the killing. He also noted that the
perceptions of a speculated verdict of not guilty by reason of
insanity differed vastly between Al Jazeera and Deutschlandfunk
audiences. Accordingly, the former tend to apprehend such a verdict as
an absence of punishment in terms of criminal justice, whereas the
latter tend to be discerned with containment away from public life
through being involuntary committed to a forensic psychiatry
Media scientist Hanan Badr commented on reporting
in Germany and Egypt as being "a prime example of mass-media
miscommunication between cultures".