Czech arson suspect says he knew Roma lived in the building
At the start of April, the trial continued at the Regional Court in Plzeň of a nine-member, allegedly organized group of neo-Nazis from various parts of the country which news server Romea.cz previously reported on here. According to the indictment, the group used the Internet to call for violent attacks on minorities, political party headquarters, representatives of the Government or the police and planned to attack specific individuals.
The Regional State Prosecutor said several members of the group, collaborating with others, perpetrated at least two attacks that reportedly did not result in physical injury to those assaulted. Police say the defendants personally contributed to establishing and running a cell of the international neo-Nazi organization Blood & Honour Division Bohemia and its militant daughter organization, Combat 18, in West Bohemia.
Some of the defendants contributed to the group's activities by producing or selling music recordings and t-shirts featuring neo-Nazi propaganda. During the April hearing, representatives of the owners of a building in Mariánské Lázně that was vandalized by members of the group, as well as a psychologist and psychiatrist who examined the defendants, testified in court.
The medical experts testified that in their opinion the alleged boss of the group suffers from various personality disorders but is not mentally ill. His problem, they stated, stems from the approach taken toward him by his parents, who have spoiled him.
The alleged ringleader is said to have never been led toward becoming proficient in the practical aspects of life and has never held a job. According to various medical diagnoses, he has been classified as permanently disabled and receives a disability pension.
An organized group, or "just" an organization?
Let's return, however, to the previous hearing in this case that took place in February. That was when the greatest contribution of the trial toward clarifying the case occurred in the form of the testimony of defendant Tomáš K., a resident of the town of Aš.
As his attorney emphasized, the defendant cooperated with police from the moment he was arrested by members of the Organized Crime Detection Unit (ÚOOZ), and confessed to committing an action in Mariánské Lázně during which he and defendant Boleslav M. spray-painted various buildings with "Combat 18" and "Sudetenland"; he also confessed to committing the arson attack in Aš and described to the court in detail how the group had operated.
First Tomáš K. stated that after he had been charged, he had met with one of his victims, agreed on an amount of compensation with him, and paid it, which he claimed to be able to document. He also said he would pay any others harmed however much money they wanted.
He then told the court that in 2011, he, Boleslav M. and Michal P. used to meet once or twice a month for beer. They were motivated to undertake their various actions by the main defendant, Jan B. of Prague, nicknamed "Warrior", who communicated with them through his girlfriend, Petra L.
She was a native of Aš who regularly traveled home to visit her family, where she would also deliver CDs and t-shirts to the group members that they had ordered online from "Warrior", items that "were not free". She would also bring them messages from "Warrior", who otherwise communicated with members of the group only under his pseudonym by e-mail.
The messages told them to "do various actions", such as the one in Mariánské Lázně, through which the defendant said "we were supposed to make ourselves known", as well as messages that an organization like Blood & Honour or Combat 19 was being created. After the arson, Tomáš K. informed Jan B. of the result of that "action"; their electronic communications show that Jan B. considered it unsuccessful.
Tomáš K. described the arson attack, which he claims to have undertaken only with Michal P., as a prank. On that fateful evening, they traveled together with Michal's wife and with Boleslav M. to a hunter's ball in the town of Krásná near Aš.
When the dance was over, they traveled by taxi back to Aš, without Boleslav M., and dropped Michal's wife off at their home before walking to another pub to drink. There they got the idea "to do something like attack the residential hotel", since they still had the Blood & Honour organization in mind, "to do an action".
Tomáš K. said that while he himself had proposed the idea, he only went ahead with it so as not to seem stupid, because everyone in the organization had to stand by his own actions. On the way to the residential hotel the men collected empty PET bottles from a dumpster, filled them with gasoline at a filling station, collected glass bottles from another dumpster, and then filled them with the gasoline in Tomáš K.'s parents' basement.
The men then took rags to use as wicks and headed for the residential hotel in Nádražní Street, which Tomáš K. said was attracting a problematic community of Romani people, mainly from the town of Cheb. He told the court that he knew the residential hotel and was well aware who lived there, but said he had never noticed that children were living there (even though other people had seen them playing in front of the building on a daily basis).
"We wanted to scare people so they wouldn't move in there," he told the court. With the passage of time, he realized that the fire could have caused serious injury.
Defendant: "I joined the Blood & Honour organization"
In the dead of night, the men first poured gasoline from the PET bottles over the main entrance to the residential hotel, and then, without checking to see whether those inside might be able to leave the building by some other exit, they set it on fire. When throwing their Molotov cocktails, they stood a maximum of two meters away from the building and threw them simultaneously.
In court, Tomáš K. said they had not been wearing masks at the time. He said that after leaving the scene, they went to another pub in Aš located on a hill with a vantage point looking onto the residential hotel; they could see that nothing was happening there, so they went home.
Tomáš K. also told the court that other motivations for his actions were that there is a great deal of crime in the Aš area, that he felt humiliated when his former girlfriend "starting going out with a Romani guy", and that his brother had once allegedly been assaulted by Roma. Reportedly all of these events intensified his hatred for Romani people, which is why he joined the present-day Nazi followers of the Blood & Honour organization.
The reliability of his testimony on some counts is questionable; the key witness for the prosecution says the assailants wore masks, and the taxi driver who picked the perpetrators up says they did not seem drunk at the time. The main question of the whole case, however, is whether Jan B., allegedly the head of this organized group, is also responsible for the arson attack in Aš, since he merely urged the members of his group, through his girlfriend, to do "an action".
He has not yet been charged with responsibility for the attack. The trial is scheduled continue at the start of May and then at the end of May, when several victims are expected to give testimony.
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