Two neo-Nazis accused of plotting to bomb a Jewish cultural center in Munich recanted their testimony and admitted in court on Tuesday that they had indeed been practicing to launch attacks.
Neo-Nazi leader Martin Wiese still denies the charges
Their evidence infuriated the alleged leader of the plot, Martin Wiese, and the hearing, part of a major neo-Nazi trial, had to be delayed for about an hour until he calmed down.
"The accusations are correct," said Alexander Mätzing, going back on previous testimony that he and three co-accused including Wiese had never engaged in paramilitary training, as alleged by prosecutors.
But Mätzing, 28, told the court that they had not definitively planned to attack the cultural center on Nov. 9, 2003 as then president Johannes Rau and the head of Germany's Jewish community were about to lay a foundation stone. He did, however, acknowledge that the center was "a target among others being discussed."
The ceremony was timed to coincide with the 65th anniversary of Kristallnacht, when Nazi gangs burned down synagogues and smashed the windows of Jewish shops and businesses.
Mätzing also said he believed TNT explosives that the extreme-right group, "Kameradschaft Süd" (Comradeship South), had bought "would be used for a bomb attack in the near future."
His co-defendent, David Schulz, also acknowledged that charges he had taken part in paramilitary training were essentially correct.
"I thought, without really checking, that the shooting exercises in the forest would eventually lead to the use of weapons with real bullets," he said, in evidence about training he claimed was led by Wiese.
A spokesman for Munich prosecutors said that the evidence given by the two on Tuesday marked "a decisive turning point" in the trial. Lawyers for the two said that their clients hoped to receive clemency from the judge for changing their testimony.
In a declaration to the court, Wiese, 28 said: "I and the others never at any time planned an attack against the Jewish culture center." Weise and his three alleged accomplices could face 10 years in jail if found guilty.
Classified as terrorists
On Monday, neo-Nazis from the eastern German state Brandenburg were classified as "terrorists" by a German court as 12 young members of an extreme-right group were jailed for attacking shops and fast food outlets. It was the first time in two decades neo-Nazis had received that status.
The group's members were aged between 14 and 18 at the time of the 10 attacks on the immigrant-owned businesses between August 2003 and May 2004 in the small town of Havelland outside Berlin.
The Brandenburg regional superior court sentenced the group's ringleader to four and a half years in jail and ordered the other members to be detained for between eight months and two years. No one was injured in the attacks which caused around €800,000 ($1.06 million) of damage.
They were members of a so-called "Kameradschaft" named "Freikorps". Researchers fear that neo-Nazi groups are gaining a stronghold in many parts of the former communist east of Germany through such youth-oriented groups.
At the end of the 1970s and in the early 1980s a number of neo-Nazi groups were adjudged to be "terrorist" organizations in Germany, but an attempt to punish the publisher of an extreme right-wing newspaper under anti-terrorist legislation failed in the late 1990s.