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World Neo-Nazi Trial Shrouded In Intrigue


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004

German neo-Nazi trial shrouded in intrigue

By Stephen Evans


One of the biggest trials in Germany since the war focuses on an alleged neo-Nazi ring.

She has the sweetest face. Beate Zschaepe smiles gently at the camera as she twirls for the video the police made for their files. She is dressed in a girlish pink top as she performs the required choreography shortly after giving herself up. It is a face of child-like innocence, a young woman who would not hurt a fly.

But is it the face of genuine innocence - or a deceptive face concealing her involvement in the murder of 10 truly innocent people?

Prosecutors have called Beate Zschaepe the country's most dangerous neo-Nazi. She is accused of helping to murder nine men, all but one of them of Turkish background, and a policewoman.

She is also accused of helping in 28 attempted murders as well as being a member of a terrorist organisation. And she is charged with robbery, causing explosions and arson.

The arson relates to the fire which she is alleged to have started before giving herself up on 8 November 2011, telling police she was the one they were looking for.

She shared a flat in Jena, in the old East Germany, with two men - Uwe Boehnhardt und Uwe Mundlos. They had been found shot dead four days earlier, apparently a double suicide after they botched a bank robbery.

After the deaths, the gun used in the murders of the 10 people was discovered, thus clearing up one mystery but opening another: how did they get away with it for so long?

And it opened a debate about whether the police and security services were "blind in the right eye" because they had failed to see right-wing terrorism. And there was even speculation that maybe they had detected it through informers but then failed to act on it out of sympathy.

Families' ordeal

The first murder took place at a stall on the outskirts of Nuremberg on the Saturday afternoon of 9 September, 2000.

Two gunmen shot a seller of flowers in the face. They fired eight shots at Enver Simsek, six of which hit him. Two days later he died in hospital. One of the weapons used was a Czech-made pistol - a CZ 83 - the gun found after Beate Zschaepe handed herself in 11 years later.

Timeline of attacks
  • 2000: Simsek Enver shot in Nuremberg
  • 2001: Abdurrahim Ozudogru shot in Nuremberg, Suleyman Taskopru shot in Hamburg, Habil Kılıc shot in Munich
  • 2004: Mehmet Turgut shot in Rostock
  • 2005: Ismail Yasar shot in Nuremberg, Theodoros Boulgarides shot in Munich
  • 2006: Mehmet Kubasık shot in Dortmund, Halit Yozgat shot in Kassel

    2007: Michele Kiesewetter shot in Heilbronn

The pattern of that first murder was repeated over the next six years. The victims were Turkish except for Theodoros Boulgarides, a locksmith who may have been mistaken for a Turk. The last murder was that of a policewoman on 25 April, 2007. Nobody - except perhaps Beate Zschaepe - knows the motive for this murder, though it may have been a personal grudge or an attempt to get weapons.

Either way, after the double suicide and Ms Zschaepe's surrender, a grisly video emerged (some say sent by the woman now on trial) which gloated over the killings. To the tune of the Pink Panther, it showed pictures of the corpses of the victims and identified the "organisation" behind the murders as the National Socialist Underground.

It was a revelation to the police. They had initially assumed that the murders were the work of the Turkish mafia. This meant that the families of the victims had been interrogated, in their grief, as potential perpetrators rather than as victims themselves. In one case, a mother who had scrubbed and cleaned up her own son's murder scene then found herself the object of suspicion.

Mehmet Daimagueller, who represents one of the families, still seethes with anger. He told the BBC: "It's obvious you can't survive underground in Germany - you need to have people supporting you - and I would like to know who supported the group."

He is voicing a common discontent about the trial in Munich. It is, the critics say, about much more than the specific charges against one woman.

Multiple agencies

Big questions arise because of the failure of the security authorities. The neo-Nazi trio were known to have been involved in far-right demonstrations 20 years ago in Jena, the run-down town where they got to know each other as rebellious teenagers.

One case cited is where a doll bearing the sign "Jew" was hung from a motorway bridge. The three realised they were known to the authorities so, it is alleged, they vanished from view in 1998 to found their murderous cell.

One of the problems for the authorities is that they have admitted that documents relating to the investigation were shredded. The questions asked by sceptics are: did informers tell the authorities of the activities of this group and, if so, why were the murders not halted?

The authorities' defence is that law enforcement in Germany is in the hands of myriad agencies, police and secret service, national and local.

On top of that, the murders were spread out in place and time. Sometimes the killers would strike within a few weeks of the previous murder and sometimes many months would pass.

Even today, it is hard to see why these particular victims were chosen. They were invariably the operators of small businesses - tailors, internet cafes, a flower stall, kebab shops - with no public profile. Their shops were nondescript and often in run-down parts of a city. The murders were spread across Germany in no particular pattern.

'Never again'

One of Germany's leading investigative authors, John Goetz, wrote a book on the case. He concluded that it was more {censored}-up than conspiracy.

"What we are looking at is security services which failed dramatically but basically out of incompetence and pettiness, not out of Nazi sympathies," he told the BBC.

On this view, the shredding of documents was to protect the security services from embarrassment over incompetence rather than to hide their complicity.

Sebastian Edathy, who heads a German parliamentary investigation, inclines to a similar view but thinks there was a blindness to the crimes of the right - the police simply assumed that Turkish victims meant Turkish criminals.

The Bundestag, he said, was debating new legislation which would oblige police to investigate a possible political background to any severe crime where the victim was a member of a religious or ethnic minority.

"Right-wing extremism should never be underestimated again in Germany," he added.


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Follow up to the story

Neo-Nazi murders: Beate Zschaepe goes on trial in Germany


Ms Zschaepe's trial is part of a wider issue that has gripped Germany

An alleged member of a German neo-Nazi cell has gone on trial in Munich in connection with a series of racially motivated murders.

Beate Zschaepe, 38, is accused of being part of the National Socialist Underground (NSU), which killed 10 people, most of them of Turkish origin.

She denies the murder charges. Critics say the police made serious errors.

The judge later adjourned the trial for a week after the defence team accused the judge of bias.

After entering court, Ms Zschaepe stood with folded arms and turned her back on the camera.

Her lawyers lodged a legal complaint with the judge, accusing him of bias. They complained about being searched for possible weapons or other objects on arrival, while prosecutors and police were not. The judge ordered an adjournment until 14 May to consider the complaint.

The NSU case sparked controversy as police wrongly blamed the Turkish mafia before discovering the far-right cell.

The head of Germany's domestic intelligence service was eventually forced to resign over the scandal. It also emerged that intelligence files on far-right extremists were destroyed after the cell's activities came to light.

Four male defendants are also on trial with Ms Zschaepe, facing lesser charges of having helped the NSU.

She faces life in prison if convicted.

This police video shows alleged neo-Nazi Beate Zschaepe in an identity parade.

Critics have accused authorities of turning a blind eye to the crimes of right-wing extremists, the BBC's Steve Evans reports from Munich.

Officials deny this, saying mistakes occurred because the murders were spread across different regions, each with different police and security agencies.

The killings took place over a seven-year period, and none of the victims or locations was high-profile.

Execution-style killings

Ethnic Turkish community groups and anti-racism campaigners demonstrated outside the courthouse on Monday, demanding justice. Some suspect the police of institutional racism which may have helped the neo-Nazis to act with impunity, our correspondent says.

Before the trial got under way a large crowd of journalists had gathered outside, along with dozens of people hoping to get seats in the court. About 500 police officers were deployed and nearby streets were cordoned off.

Ms Zschaepe, as a founding member of the NSU, is charged with complicity in the murders of eight ethnic Turks, a Greek immigrant and a German policewoman between 2000 and 2007.

She is also accused of involvement in 15 armed robberies, of arson, and of attempted murder via two bomb attacks.

Prosecutors say the aim of the execution-style killings was to spread fear among immigrants and prompt them to leave Germany.

Her lawyers say she is refusing to speak in court. Only the trial opening was broadcast, in line with German legal restrictions.

The four male defendants are:

  • Ralf Wohlleben, 38, and Carsten Schultze, 33, accused of being accessories to murder in the killing of the nine men - they allegedly supplied weapons and silencers
  • Andre Eminger, 33, accused of being an accessory in two of the bank robberies, in the 2004 nail bombing in Cologne's old town that injured 22 people, and two counts of supporting a terrorist organisation
  • Holger Gerlach, 39, faces three counts of supporting a terrorist organisation.

The NSU cell remained undetected until Ms Zschaepe gave herself up in November 2011, after police discovered the bodies of two of her alleged accomplices.

Uwe Mundlos, 38, and Uwe Boenhardt, 34, appeared to have shot themselves after a botched bank robbery.

After their deaths, the gun used in the murders of the 10 people was discovered.

Ms Zschaepe shared a flat in Zwickau, in the old East Germany, with the two men who were found shot dead.

The arson charge against her relates to a fire which she is alleged to have started in the flat before giving herself up. She told police she was the one they were looking for.

In addition, a video emerged showing pictures of the corpses of the victims and identifying the "organisation" behind the murders as the NSU. The video had a cartoon Pink Panther totting up the number of dead.

Uwe Mundlos, Beate Zschaepe and Uwe Boehnhardt Uwe Mundlos, Beate Zschaepe and Uwe Boehnhardt were believed to be the cell's only members

Only then did the authorities conclude that the killings were the work of neo-Nazis.

They had previously treated some of the families of the victims as suspects in their murders.

As a result, the trial has taken on a meaning beyond the charges in court, as it is also puts the spotlight on attitudes towards the murder of members of ethnic minority groups, our correspondent says.

An earlier start date had been set for the trial, but it was delayed for weeks amid a dispute about the seat allocations, as Turkish media were not guaranteed places.

Turkish media have now been given four seats, but several leading German newspapers missed out in the lottery, AFP news agency reports.

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