German police investigating eyewitness claims that Sunday's blaze in Ludwigshafen was caused by arson have found neo-Nazi graffiti daubed on the building where nine Turkish immigrants died. Turkish media are reporting that the occupants had received xenophobic threats.
German police said on Wednesday they had found neo-Nazi symbols daubed next to the entrance to a Turkish cultural center on the ground floor of the Ludwigshafen building where nine Turkish immigrants, including five children, died in a fire on Sunday.
The word "Hass," German for hatred, had been smeared twice next to the door, with the last two letters written in the style of the Germanic runes of Hitler's SS organization.
Police spokesman Michael Lindner said it was unclear when the graffiti was written, but that it must have been before the blaze because the building had been cordoned off and under police guard ever since.
The building has been shored up by engineers and police were able to enter it with sniffer dogs on Wednesday to look for any signs of arson.
Police had announced on Tuesday they were investigating a statement by two Turkish girls , aged eight and nine, who claim to have seen a man setting fire to a wooden stick in a corridor of the building and then running away. Police said they would try to create a photofit picture of the possible arsonist from the statements of the two girls, but stressed it was too soon to draw any conclusions about the cause of the fire.
Turkish media are speculating that the fire was laid by German neo-Nazis. If the suspicion is confirmed, Germany will have to brace itself for the same international condemnation that followed the 1993 killing of five Turkish women and girls in a fire in Solingen, western Germany, which was set by German youths.
Reports of Far-Right Threats
Turkish newspaper Zaman reported on Wednesday that the Kaplan family living in the century-old apartment block had been threatened by young German right-wing extremists after they moved into the building.
The newspaper cited relatives of the victims living in the southern Turkish town of Gaziantep. The threats were received after a Turkish coffee shop was opened in the ground floor of the building, said Ismail Ceylan, a family relative. He said the Kaplans had not taken the threats seriously.
Bild newspaper cited police as saying that there had been an arson attack on the building in August 2006, when unknown assailants threw a cobblestone and two petrol bombs into an empty pub on the ground floor. It caused only slight damage.
The incident is starting to cause diplomatic tensions between Germany and Turkey. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper reported Wednesday that German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble criticized the Turkish ambassador to Germany, Ali Irtemçelik, for having said it was "strange" that German politicians had ruled out any xenophobic motive before any cause had been established.
"Sometimes ambassadors, too, have to be taught manners," Schäuble said, according to the newspaper.
Schäuble also seemed perturbed by Turkey's request to send experts to help investigate the fire. He said Turkey was free to do so "even though we know the mistrust of our police authorities is unfounded."
Kurt Beck, the governor of Rhineland-Palatinate and the leader of Germany's Social Democratic Party, had on Monday ruled out the possibility that the fire may have been caused by a xenophobic attack. A public prosecutor would later state that Beck's comments had been made based on the facts that had been available to him at the time of his visit.
'Mistrust Is Unfounded'
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is due to visit the site of the fire this week during a pre-arranged official visit to Germany. He is scheduled to meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday.
"We are greatly concerned over the possibility of premeditation in the fire in which all the victims were Turks," Erdogan said in a speech to Turkish lawmakers. "Is the real reason behind this sad event xenophobia? We hope not."
The blaze, which took place during carnival celebrations, has topped the news in Germany, and newspapers printed a picture of a baby who was thrown out of an upstairs window in the block. Adults also jumped out of windows to escape and a pregnant woman was among the dead.
The baby's uncle, Kamil Kaplan, who threw 11-month-old Onur into the arms of a fireman on the ground three floors below, told Bild: "Dropping him was the last chance. A policeman was standing in front of the house. I looked in his eyes and realized that it would work. The officer took off his jacket and held it out in front of him like a rescue net. I kissed Onur one last time. Then I dropped him."
Despite the dramatic fall, the baby escaped the fire without injury. Onur's parents also survived and were taken to hospital suffering from smoke poisoning and bone fractures.