The Guardian, Nov. 15, 2011
The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, promised a full investigation on Monday after it was revealed that a cell of neo-Nazis apparently carried out a series of killings over seven years without being detected.
The group, calling itself the “National Socialist Underground”, allegedly killed at least 10 people across the country, leading to accusations that the security authorities underestimated the threat of far-right violence in the country.
The cell was only discovered when the two main suspects, Uwe M and Uwe B, were found dead on 4 November in a mobile home following a botched bank robbery.
Another suspect, Beate Z, handed herself in to the police last week after allegedly setting fire to the house she shared with the two men in the city of Zwickau, Saxony. She was arrested on Sunday, and charged with founding a terrorist organisation and arson.
“We’re seeing something inconceivable,” Merkel said on Monday . “We suspect rightwing extremists are responsible for horrible acts of violence, for rightwing terror. It’s a disgrace and mortifying for Germany and we’ll do everything we can to get to the bottom of this. We owe that to the victims.”
Investigators only linked the trio to the series of unsolved crimes after searching their home and vehicles and finding the guns used in the killing of eight Turks and one Greek, all shopkeepers or food vendors, from 2000 to 2006, and the shooting of a policewoman in Heilbronn in 2007.
The police also found a DVD in which the men admitted the murders and threatened more killings. They also boasted of carrying out a nail bomb attack on a Cologne street predominantly inhabited by Turkish people in 2004. The authorities are looking at all unsolved crimes since 1998 that they suspect had xenophobic motives.
On Sunday the police detained a 37-year-old man, Holger G, on suspicion of helping the Zwickau group. He is thought to have given them his driving licence and passport and rented vehicles for them. Yesterday he was arrested on suspicion of being a member of a terrorist organisation.
Federal prosecutors said they are carrying out an “intensive investigation” into whether there are other members of the NSU.
The three, who came from the eastern city of Jena, were known to be active in the Thüringer Heimatschutz, a far-right group, since the early 1990s. The trio were suspected of sending letter bombs in 1997 and in 1998 police raided a garage rented by Beate Z and discovered pipe bombs and explosives.
Warrants were issued for their arrest but the three fled. At the time the head of the Thüringer Heimatschutz, Tino Brandt, was a paid informer for the state domestic intelligence agency, the office for the protection of the constitution in Thuringia. Yesterday the federal office for the protection of the constitution released a statement denying any contact with the three suspects or any knowledge of their whereabouts since 1998.
The parliamentary committee on intelligence matters is to meet today to discuss the affair. Thomas Oppermann, a member of the opposition Social Democrats, who sits on the committee, has called for an investigation into whether police and security officials at regional and national level made mistakes.
“One can’t help getting the terrible impression that the danger of rightwing extremist violence wasn’t taken seriously enough,” he told the Süddeutsche Zeitung.
The federal domestic intelligence agency estimates that there are about 5,600 rightwing extremists who would be prepared to commit violence. Its 2010 report stated, however, that “there are no indications of far-right terrorist structures”.
Bernd Wagner, a former police officer who co-founded Exit, a group that helps people get out of the neo-Nazi scene, thinks that there are extremists across the country who are prepared to use violence against their perceived enemies.
He argues that the public has got used to the violence. “Nowadays, when a foreigner is killed or beaten up, it doesn’t get as much attention as it did 20 years ago,” he said. “It’s only because there were 10 murders that this case is seen as so spectacular.”
Originally published in The Guardian