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Germany to try neo-Nazi group for immigrant murders

Germany plans to launch a mammoth trial this spring over a racist killing spree by a neo-Nazi terror cell that claimed 10 lives and shocked the nation. The execution-style killings of Turkish and Greek men and a policewoman have been blamed on a trio of far-right militants who called themselves the National Socialist Underground.

Its two male gunmen died in 2011 in an apparent murder-suicide after they were cornered by police following a bank robbery, but their alleged female accomplice is in custody and awaiting trial. The murder spree has sparked deep soul-searching in a nation still struggling with the dark memory of its Nazi past, and Chancellor Angela Merkel has called it a “disgrace for our country.”

For years police and some newspapers had labelled the 2000-07 killings the “doner murders”, a reference to Turkish kebabs that suggested immigrant gang wars were behind the shootings. “The victims have been treated badly for many years, they were treated as suspects,” said Angelika Lex, the Munich based lawyer for the widow of Greek murder victim Theodoros Boulgarides.

“They want to be treated as what they are: victims.” The botched investigation that failed to stop the bloodshed for seven years has raised troubling questions about intelligence failures, now the subject of several state and federal probes. The trial, expected to start in April or May, is set to be Germany’s biggest since that of the Baader-Meinhof Gang, or Red Army Faction, far-left terrorists in the 1970s.

Prosecutors have been working through some 1,000 ring-binders of evidence ahead of the trial that will pack five defendants, about 50 lawyers and 57 plaintiffs, along with witnesses and media, into the windowless hall 101 of a Munich high-security court building. In the dock will be Beate Zschaepe, 37, who is co-accused in the murders even though police assume that her late accomplices Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Boenhardt fired the deadly shots.

“The NSU members saw themselves as a unified death squad which carried out its cowardly assassinations driven by racist and anti-state motives,” state prosecutor Harald Range said in November. Zschaepe has also been charged with arson after she allegedly torched the apartment the three had shared in the eastern city of Zwickau to destroy evidence after the deaths of the two gunmen.

The NSU has also been blamed for bomb attacks in 2001 and 2004 in the western city of Cologne that wounded more than 20 people, and of a string of bank robberies to finance their operations. The prosecution service also indicted four alleged supporters, among them an unidentified man who allegedly procured the murder weapon, a Ceska 83 pistol. Lex, the lawyer, told dpa that “it seems unlikely to us that the NSU was an isolated group of three with a handful of supporters, and that it alone was responsible for the murder series.”

“Our hope for the trial is that it shines more light not just on the immediate workings of the NSU but that it also uncovers its connections with the local neo-Nazi scene.” The case has badly shaken Germany’s security establishment, which has faced heavy criticism for failing to exchange key information while keeping neo-Nazis as paid informants.

The scandal forced the resignation of Heinz From, the former head of the domestic security service, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, in mid 2012. Under reforms planned by state and federal interior ministers, Germany would run a central database of all informants and tighten intelligence sharing between police and various security services.

The murder spree also gave a fresh boost to a push to outlaw the extreme-right National Democratic Party (NPD), which is openly hostile to foreigners and seen to have neo-Nazi links. An attempt a decade ago to ban the NPD failed because Germany’s highest court feared the presence of paid state informants within top party ranks sullied the evidence against the group. The upper house of parliament agreed in December to go ahead with another attempt in which the state will have to prove the anti-immigrant party is militantly hostile against democracy.

Frank Zeeler, "Germany to try neo-Nazi group for immigrant murders," Business recorder. 2012-12-30.