In May 2018, an arson attack on an Asian grocery store in the North Rhine-Westphalian city of Wetter caused great concern among politicians and the public as many thought right-wing activists were behind it. Now, the real perpetrator, the Syrian shopkeeper himself, has been sentenced to three years in prison after being convicted of arson that put the lives of children at risk, German news portal Junge Freiheit has reported.
The Syrian, who came to Germany in 2015 as a part of a wave of over a million migrants, set his own shop on fire after he became ensnared in debt in an attempt to collect insurance money. He had opened the store only a few weeks earlier.
Mohammed Moussa was seen by many as a prime example of successful integration, which was in no small part due to how he was presented by local politicians and the regional press. They used Moussa’s story to turn the war refugee and his shop into a showcase project for a more diverse community.
His store opening garnered a lot of enthusiasm from the local German public, but a number of critics of migration voiced their opposition to Moussa and mass migration in general. Among them were some young men who formed a group called the Fallersleben Bund and who also operated their internet blog under this name, where they published right-wing conservative content.
Despite the group’s political activity, none of the young people could have expected that that the small acts of opposition would soon turn them into suspects of several serious crimes. Once 32-year-old Moussa’s store burned down, which also sparked a fire in the apartment building it was located in, all fingers pointed to those with right-wing leanings.
Right-wing activists targeted by police
Solidarity donations were collected in schools, parishes, and associations to provide for Moussa’s family, and there were even “brownies for brown people” at the weekly market to raise money for him. Meanwhile, the young conservatives who police suspected of committing the arson had to endure house searches and intensive interrogations in what became a difficult experience for their families.
The authors of the political blog involved with Fallersleben Bund told Junge Freiheit how surprised and shocked they were by the house searches and other measures they faced in the wake of the arson. Up until that point, their experiences with the police had been mostly positive.
Despite the police measures, the young men say they have no grudges against the officers but still assert that the whole incident “left a bitter aftertaste”.
The house searches and interrogations had a chilling effect on the group, leading them to disband and stop their political action, however, one member said, “We did not become apolitical because of the matter.”
Moussa brought to trial for arson
After Moussa received donations from the people of Wetter, he sold his shop to a friend and bought an expensive car. When it came to installment financing for the vehicle, the father of the family untruthfully reported an income of €5,500.
Authorities eventually turned their attention to Moussa, leading to his arrest. On the night of the fire, the Syrian had, among other things, unscrewed the security cameras of the shop where he has also been accused of dealing in drugs. He also manipulated the security camera footage.
The trial of Moussa determined that despite the nine residents inside the three-story apartment building at the time, including three children, the Syrian still set his store on fire.
A mother and her 11-year-old daughter were only saved because a squad of firefighters with respirators fought their way through the clouds of black smoke. Both the mother and the daughter were both hospitalized with smoke inhalation.
Moussa was ultimately sentenced to imprisonment for falsifying a criminal offense, fraud, and dangerous bodily harm.
The German court was convinced that Moussa had set the fire for selfish reasons and had been fooling the whole city for months. The man was seeking insurance money as he faced a number of debts he was unable to pay. In addition, he also had committed social welfare fraud and stole more than €42,000 from the job center for himself and his family. He also sent large amounts of cash to Syria and Lebanon several times.