On November 4, 2011, Beate Zschäpe turned herself in to police, thereby uncovering a terrorist group to which she herself belonged and which had called itself National Socialist Underground (NSU).
This was triggered by the suspected suicide of her friends Uwe Böhnhardt and Uwe Mundlos shortly before the police were able to arrest them as they hid, armed, inside a caravan in eastern Germany.
Zschäpe then sent a confession video to the media in which the NSU boasted of its crimes. Over a seven-year period, the trio was responsible for 10 racially motivated murders, as well as nail bombings in which numerous people were seriously injured.
Parliamentary inquiries show moderate success
In 2018, Zschäpe was sentenced to life in prison after a five-year criminal trial at the Munich Higher Regional Court. Why the NSU remained undiscovered for more than a decade has been a question asked by several parliamentary investigation committees. That question has yet to be fully answered, partly because the relevant secret service files remain locked away.
Survivors of the NSU and relatives of those murdered have long expressed their outrage and disappointment at this decision. At the trial against Zschäpe, little was revealed about what Germany's domestic intelligence agency, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, knew about the Nazi group that has been murdering people across Germany. The suspicion remains that the agency covered up for accomplices of the NSU among its informers, or even in its own ranks.
But that secrecy has now been partially lifted, because the internet freedom of information portal FragDenStaat ("Ask the state") and TV satirist Jan Böhmermann last week published a report from the Hesse state branch of the intelligence agency, much to the satisfaction of Gamze Kubasik, whose father Mehmet was shot dead in Dortmund in April 2006.
'The intelligence agency failed'
After seeing the leaked 173 pages, Kubașik wonders why the report, written in 2014, was to have been kept secret for 30 years? Originally, that had even been set at 120 years. What she can glean from the newly revealed dossier sounds very familiar to Gamze Kubașik: "The Office for the Protection of the Constitution failed. It massively underestimated the neo-Nazis then, as it does now," she wrote in a statement published by her lawyer.
Informers from the Office for the Protection of the Constitution had supported the Nazis with their money and their possibilities instead of fighting them. "All this is not new," Kubasik noted. Nevertheless, she says, the report that has now been published is important "because it shows that the Offices for the Protection of the Constitution obviously saw their terrible misjudgment themselves."
NSU files are said to have disappeared
According to the report, at least 200 files related to the NSU are said to be untraceable. Gamze Kubașik doubts this: How could it be that something that might lead directly to the National Socialist Underground and the work of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution in Hesse "simply disappears"? She is glad to see any elucidation of the events. For the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, however, the leaked report is an unexpected blow, against which it has now filed a criminal complaint.
Meanwhile, the domestic intelligence service has been forced to take another setback. Thanks to a decision taken by Germany's Constitutional Court, in the future, data the agency has secretly collected on individuals may only be passed on to the police and public prosecutors in exceptional cases. This court decision, published on November 3, is also related to the NSU: The complaint was filed by a man who had been sentenced to a three-year juvenile sentence for aiding and abetting murder in the trial against the terrorist group.
He felt that his fundamental right to informational self-determination had been violated by the practice of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution and successfully filed a constitutional complaint.
Although the court approved the "legitimate purpose of protecting the existence and security of the state as well as the life, limb and freedom of the population," it also insisted on proportionality. Accordingly, in order to forward secretly collected data to a law enforcement agency, there must be a well-founded suspicion "for which concrete … circumstances exist."
According to the court's verdict, this condition had not yet been met in the case of the NSU accomplice at the time the information was passed on.
This article was originally published in German.