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New witness testimony could damage case of NSU defendant

There was a new twist at the trial of five suspects accused of assisting a neo-Nazi group believed to have killed 10 people over a period of several years. A new witness may have damaged the case for the main defendant.

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Witness testimony a blow to Zschäpe

Testimony provided Monday by a new witness to the Munich court may indicate that Beate Zschäpe was more closely involved than previously thought in the murders of eight Turks, a Greek small-businessman and a German policewoman by a neo-Nazi group between 2000 and 2007.

Zschäpe stands accused of being a member of the right-wing extremist National Socialist Underground (NSU), which is thought to have been behind the killings. The 38-year-old Zschäpe is also accused of trying to throw police off the trail of the two men who are believed to have pulled the trigger in the murders, Uwe Böhnhardt and Uwe Mundlos.

Both Böhnhardt and Mundlos escaped police by committing suicide after robbing a bank in the eastern city of Eisenach in November 2011. Zschäpe is accused of trying to destroy evidence against the NSU by burning down a house in the eastern city of Zwickau shortly after their deaths. However, she has not been accused of direct involvement in the murders.

On Monday, though, a witness identified as Veronika A. told the court that she had observed Zschäpe standing in a garden alongside both Böhnhardt and Mundlos in a in the city of Dortmund in April 2006. The 63-year-old witness also said she recognized a skinhead standing with them from her Dortmund neighborhood. Not long afterwards, a Turkish small-businessman was murdered - also in Dortmund.

Veronika A. said she had only recently come forward with what she had observed because, among other things, she was "afraid of neo-Nazis."

Zschäpe's defense team used their cross-examination to try to discredit the witness, and also suggested that it may not have been Zschäpe that she had seen, but the wife of her former neighbor. Since Veronika A. first came forward with the information, investigators have spoken with the man she identified as the skinhead. The man told them that he had shaved his head and that his wife bore a striking resemblance to Zschäpe. Just how striking a resemblance that might be could be know as soon as next week, when both the neighbor and his wife are to appear in court.

Parliamentary inquiry

The fact that the alleged link between the 10 killings and the NSU was not discovered until Böhnhardt and Mundlos were found dead in late 2011 led to a lot of questions about the work of the police and Germany's intelligence services.

Parallel to the trial, a Bundestag parliamentary committee held an inquiry into why police failed to make the link earlier, believing instead that the murders were the products of disputes within Germany's Turkish community.

The committee's final report, adopted by the German parliament earlier this month, described this failure as a "shameful defeat" for the police and intelligence services.

Bundestag President Norbert Lammert also formally apologized to the victims' families.

pfd/mkg (AFP,dpa)

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