In June 2004, a nail bomb explosion injured more than 20 people in Cologne. Some of the victims will testify at the NSU trial in Munich. Their lawyer Alexander Hoffmann explains why this is important.
Kiel-based lawyer Alexander Hoffmann represents a joint plaintiff who was injured when a bomb went off in Cologne's Keupstrasse in 2004. The nail bomb, fastened to a bicycle, detonated outside a Turkish hair salon. 22 people were injured, four of them critically.
DW: Prior to the National Socialist Underground (NSU) trial, authorities discussed having a separate trial for the Keupstrasse bombing. What does it mean for the joint plaintiffs that the case is now being tried in Munich as part of the larger NSU trial and that they will give testimony there?
Alexander Hoffmann: It is of utmost importance to them. Had the bombing not been integrated into the Munich proceedings, the case would have presumably been closed ... it would have simply been forgotten. This would have been unacceptable for the victims, as well as for the residents of Keupstrasse.
What are the joint plaintiffs' expectations regarding the NSU trial?
They expect Beate Zschäpe to be sentenced for taking part in the bombing. They also hope that some light will be shed as to why investigations conducted between 2004 and 2011 mainly focused on the residents of Keupstrasse, though it was obvious from the start that the bombing in all likelihood was racially motivated.
Who do you think should be questioned in addition to those victims and investigators who have already given statements?
At the very least, the then federal Interior Minister Otto Schily should be questioned, along with the top police officials of the time and the chief public prosecutor, because in my opinion, these people are responsible for systematically avoiding investigation into racist motives.
When the crime was committed, the interior ministers of the states of Northrhine-Westphalia and Berlin came forward to announce that this had not been an act of terrorism. What were the implications of this?
By ruling out an act of terrorism from the start - with investigators insinuating they had information pointing in another direction - certain clues were ignored. For instance, how the bomb was built: the use of gun powder was only traced back five years, which is why investigators didn't notice that the Jena bombs [which prompted investigations into right-wing extremism in the 1990s] were constructed in a similar way and that gun powder had been found there, too. Instead of looking for similar crimes and possible perpetrators across Germany, investigators limited their scope to Cologne. Had they considered from the start that it could have been a racially motivated crime, the search would have been expanded to the whole of Germany and that would have significantly increased the chances of tracking down the perpetators.
You mentioned earlier that the joint plaintiffs expect that Beate Zschäpe will get sentenced for taking part in the bombing. Where do the testimonies of the victims and of their physicians tie in?
Ms. Zschäpe has been charged with committing the crime. There is some hard evidence to support this: not only the "bicycle" footage recorded by a surveillance camera, but further strong evidence that the crime was committed by Uwe Böhnhardt and Uwe Mundlos. The latter two, along with Zschäpe, planned and executed all those NSU attacks. Evidence has been able to prove that. Our clients' testimonials are important because they will help the court determine their sentences. It is vital to ascertain to what extent the health of the victims is still affected.
Explosives experts have already given testimony. How dangerous was the attack?
They showed that the bomb was assembled and planted in a particularly insidious way, so as to ensure maximum destruction and death.
Ten murders allegedly committed by the NSU have already been probed, as well as another Cologne bombing in 2001. Which new elements are added by the Keupstrasse bombing?
The Keupstrasse bombing shows that from June 2004 it was possible to establish a connection between previous murders and this attack; how the attack was executed - the use of bicycles, the outward appearance of the perpetrators, and the use of gun powder - all these details had played a role before. From June 9, 2004, the police had enough information to establish a connection and could have been searching for the right people.
You think there is considerable evidence against Beate Zschäpe in relation to the Keupstrasse bombing. Can you explain?
There was the NSU DVD, which she mailed off, and which she probably helped produce. It contains a statement from her claiming responsibility for the crime. In addition to that, bicycles identical to the get-away bicycles used in Cologne were found inside the caravan [in which Böhnhardt and Mundlos died in 2011] as well as in Frühlingsstrasse [Zschäpe's residence in the east German town of Zwickau]. In addition, a comprehensive press archive was found in her Frühlingsstrasse residence, which included press coverage of the Keupstrasse incident. Her fingerprints were found on one of the archived newspapers. A number of those press cuttings were used in the production of the NSU DVD. All this is sufficient evidence to get Ms. Zschäpe sentenced.
Would you say the Munich court sessions are a burden for your client, or is she relieved that the Cologne incident is finally being examined in court?
At this point, my client does not yet feel any sort of relief.