Opinion: No further mistakes! | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 15.04.2013
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Opinion: No further mistakes!

The trial against five NSU terror suspects is set to open in Munich on May 6. After all the mistakes committed by German authorities, DW’s Volker Wagener hopes that there will be no further slip-ups.

Volker Wagener Foto DW/Per Henriksen 4.10.2010. DW1_0237.jpg

DW's Volker Wagener

Back in the 1970s, Western German authorities knew only one direction when it came to fighting terrorism: they looked left. At the time, the Red Army Faction (RAF) was challenging the German state with a series of killings, kidnappings and bomb attacks.

The state replied with all the means at its disposal. The population was searched with a fine-tooth comb in search of the culprits; the special police unit GSG 9 was deployed to free hostages; and politicians assumed an unbending attitude towards the terrorists' demands – at the price of the murder of Hanns-Martin Schleyer, who was the president of the Confederation of German Employers' Associations at the time.

The enemy stood left. Everybody – politicians, legal authorities, police, and the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution – fought what was called the "red terror."

Authorities turned a blind eye

But while state authorities couldn't have taken a tougher approach when it came to fighting left-wing terrorism, their approach when investigating the 10 murders which the National Socialist Underground (NSU) committed between 2000 and 2007 couldn't have been more lax.

It may be hard to believe, but since 1990, the year of German reunification, almost 150 people have fallen victim to acts of right-wing terror. Even the RAF never achieved that level of "effectiveness"!

The investigators clearly turned a blind eye on right-wing terrorism when they – in an unprofessional and sometimes negligent way – refused to see what they simply didn't believe to be true: that there are murderous right-wing extremists in Germany. Grocery shop owners, tailors and döner restaurant owners were killed because they were of Turkish origin. The only reason for their death was hatred. While the state successfully stood up to RAF terrorism in the 1970s, its actions against right-wing terrorism seem appallingly amateurish.

Police suspected victims' relatives

Many victims could still be alive if the authorities had only acted professionally. Investigations didn't happen in a consistent manner. The agencies in charge of protecting the constitution in the 16 federal states each kept their knowledge to themselves and didn't cooperate. DNA test results from the different crime scenes were not compared, and local police officers concentrated on finding bank robbers rather than terrorists.

It didn't occur to the investigators that the NSU terror trio could have been robbing banks to finance their murder spree. Neo-Nazis were seen as ignorant extremists and not classified as terrorists with carefully planned murder spree.

In hindsight, it must seem like mockery to the relatives of the victims that for years the investigators searched for the culprits in the Turkish-Kurdish milieu. The authorities suspected "mafia crimes" and "gang wars." It was only after the ninth out of 10 murders that it dawned on authorities that the killers could in fact have a right-wing motive - incomprehensible for Germany's self image.

Trial in a tiny courtroom

All eyes and ears will now be on the room A 101 of Munich's high regional court. This is where the biggest terror trial since the 1970s will be held, with five defendants, 71 plaintiffs, 12 defense lawyers, five general prosecutors and dozens of witnesses.

The trial will last at least two years. The court now has to shed light on which pieces of evidence have been erased or buried due to the disastrous failure of the German security authorities.

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