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Neo-Nazi trial opens in Munich

May 6, 2013

The trial of the surviving member of the National Socialist Underground (NSU), a suspected terror cell accused of ten racially-motivated murders in Germany, has begun. It is seen as one of the biggest trials in decades.

FREI FÜR SOCIAL MEDIA Beate Zschaepe (C), a member of the neo-Nazi group National Socialist Underground (NSU) stands in the court before the start of her trial in Munich May 6, 2013. The surviving member of NSU blamed for a series of racist murders that scandalised Germany and shamed its authorities goes on trial on Monday in one of the most anticipated court cases in recent German history. The trial in Munich will focus on 38-year-old Zschaepe, who is charged with complicity in the murder of eight Turks, a Greek and a policewoman between 2000-2007, as well as two bombings in immigrant areas of Cologne, and 15 bank robberies. REUTERS/Michael Dalder (GERMANY - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW)
Erster Tag NSU-ProzessImage: Reuters/Michael Dalder

The main defendant in Monday's trial of the right-wing NSU organization is Beate Zschäpe. She faces charges relating to ten murders, two bombings of immigrant areas in Cologne, and 15 bank robberies. Eight of the murder victims were Turkish immigrants. One was Greek and the final victim was a German policewoman.

Over 500 police officers are on hand in Munich for the start of the trial. Streets in front of and around the upper regional court have been blocked off, and protesters are gathered near the building. Live television pictures showed some pushing and shoving between protesters and police officers ahead of the start of the trial. Many family members of victims will be in Munich for the start of the trial and will get their first public glimpse of Zschäpe.

Zschäpe is believed to be one of the founding members of the NSU, a group that went undetected in Germany for over a decade. The group's cover was blown in November 2011 with the dramatic suicide of two of Zschäpe's suspected accomplices, and the torching of an apartment believed to be shared by all three alleged members of the cell. A few days after the fire, Zschäpe turned herself in to police the eastern city of Jena.

Legal team motions for court bias

Four other people, accused of lending assistance to the NSU, are also on trial. It is expected to take up to two years before the trial is finished.

All eyes on Munich

The court case is seen as one of Germany's most significant terror trials in several decades. While fringe right-wing violence isn't an unknown occurrence in Germany, the NSU murders revealed the depth and capabilities of such organizations. The murders also exposed apparent police incompetency, as the group was able to operate without detection for over ten years.

Adding to the trial's high profile was the media accreditation debacle that has drawn negative attention to the upper regional court in Munich where the trial is being held. The initial accreditations, given on a first come, first served basis, gave 50 journalists access to cover the trial. However, none of the reserved press seats had been given to foreign journalists since none had applied early enough.

The German Constitutional Court ruled that a new accreditation process should take place, giving interested parties among the Turkish and Greek media a chance to secure a spot. This also delayed the trial by three weeks. The second accreditation process was also plagued by problems but has not caused a delay.

Zschäpe's trial could stretch into 2014, with over 600 witnesses scheduled to be called. While the trial takes place in the Munich court, a parliamentary inquiry has also been launched into the apparent lack of cooperation among law enforcement agencies that allowed the NSU to remain undetected for so long.

"There was a complete failure of the security system in Germany," said Hans-Christian Ströbele, a parliamentarian from the Green Party, in an interview on ARD public television Monday. "We're working on what conclusions can be drawn from this, because something like that can't happen again."

Ströbele added that it would take more than the authorities simply "doing a better job next time" to ensure that positive changes take place.

mz/hc (dpa, Reuters, AFP)