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Mother testifies at Munich trial of neo-Nazis

The Munich court trying surviving members of a neo-Nazi murder group has been told by the mother of a dead suspect that authorities sought their surrender in 1998. The mother accused police of botching negotiations.

Brigitte Böhnhardt claimed before Munich's regional court on Tuesday that police spoilt a bid in late 1998 to persuade a fugitive trio including her son Uwe to give themselves up via a lawyer acting as intermediary for authorities.

Two years later, the National Socialist Underground (NSU) allegedly began its murder series, killing nine immigrants across Germany and a policewoman by 2007.

Police missed signs that racist motives were behind the murders of eight shopkeepers of Turkish origin, a Greek man and a policewoman, according to parliamentary inquiry findings released in August..

Uwe Böhnhardt, his then girlfriend Beate Zschäpe, who is the sole survivor of the trio now on trial, and Uwe Mundlos went underground in 1998 after police discovered bomb-making equipment in a garage.

The two male NSU members died in an apparent murder-suicide pact in November 2011 as police closed in while investigating a bank robbery. Shortly afterwards, Zschäpe turned herself in.

'Faster on the trigger'

Brigitte Böhnhardt, a 65-year-old retired school teacher, told the court Tuesday that during the earlier surrender bid in the late nineties a police officer threatened to shoot the elusive trio by saying "our people are faster on the trigger."

State attorneys and intelligence officials withdrew their offer to reduce expected jail terms in exchange for surrender in early 1999, she said.

"If the authorities had stuck to their word, then we could have persuaded all three to give themselves up," she claimed, asserting that the murder series would "not have eventuated."

'Polite, nice people'

The mother said Uwe Böhnhardt became deeply involved in the extreme-right scene in the eastern German town of Jena after the fall of the communism.

She described his friends, including Ralf Wohlleben, an associate on trial in Munich and charged with assisting the NSU, as "all polite, nice people" who had plenty of time because they were "all unemployed."

Uwe Börnhardt, who was 34 when he died, had served time in jail and a youth institution for a series of charges, including causing bodily harm and theft.

In 2002, during a brief encounter, Zschäpe and Uwe Bornhardt had refused to disclose their hiding location, with her son saying: "Mum, you don't need to know that."

By that point in time, Mundlos and Börnhardt had allegedly already shot four migrant residents, mainly of Turkish origin.

Victims' lawyers to cross-examine

On Wednesday, Brigitte Börnhardt is due to be cross-examined by lawyers for the victims' relatives.

In June, a former neo-Nazi, told the court that he had purchased the gun for the trio with money from a rightist politician and delivered it to them in early 2000.

The Munich trial, with three hearings a week, is expected to continue into next year.

ipj/ph (AFP, dpa)