DRESDEN, Germany (Reuters) - A German court sentenced a Syrian asylum seeker to nine and a half years in prison on Thursday over the fatal stabbing of a man in the eastern city of Chemnitz last year that triggered the worst far-right riots Germany had seen for decades.
The verdict handed down in the city of Dresden in the high profile case comes barely a week before elections in the region in which the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) is expected to make big gains. The AfD welcomed the verdict.
It is almost exactly a year since the stabbing which led to thousands of right-wingers, including neo-Nazis and soccer hooligans, marching through Chemnitz and clashing with left- wingers and police.
Images of skinheads or far-right demonstrators chasing migrants, performing the Hitler salute and attacking a Jewish restaurant, raised questions about how Germany should deal with its far-right, especially after the 2015-16 migrant crisis.
The 24-year-old Syrian, identified only as Alaa S., according to German rules, was convicted of manslaughter. The Cuban-German victim, Daniel Hillig, died of his injuries after being stabbed in Chemnitz on the sidelines of a local festival.
The Syrian was also convicted of inflicting serious bodily harm on another victim, Dimitri M., who was injured but survived.
"The accused was today found guilty of joint manslaughter and grievous bodily harm. He has therefore been sentenced to a jail term of nine years and six months," a spokeswoman for the court said.
Prosecutors had called for a 10-year prison sentence.
Defense lawyers, who had called for their client to be acquitted, argued there was no evidence that their client had helped stab the victim and said they would appeal.
German authorities have also issued an international arrest warrant for an Iraqi suspect who has been on the run since the incident. They believe he was the main culprit in the killing.
The AfD said on Facebook it hoped the Iraqi suspect would be found soon and added that Chemnitz had been unfairly "branded as a playground for right-wing radicals".
"No verdict will return Daniel H. to his family and friends but at least it brings some justice in a reality that claims new victims every week," it said.
Opinion polls show that the AfD could become the biggest party in the two eastern states of Saxony and Brandenburg, which hold elections on Sept. 1.
The trial took place in Dresden, the capital of Saxony state rather than in nearby Chemnitz because of the high level of public interest in the case.
(Reporting by Reuters Television; Writing by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Alison Williams and Gareth Jones)