Police competence questioned in neo-Nazi case | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 09.11.2012
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Police competence questioned in neo-Nazi case

Suspected neo-Nazi terrorist Beate Zschäpe has been charged with murder. But accusations are also being made against authorities in Germany. Criticism includes claims of racism, missing documents and empty promises.

Alleged far-right extremist Beate Zschäpe has been charged with murder. Along with having helped found a terrorist organization in Germany, she has also been charged with complicity in 10 murders, 15 bank robberies and a bomb attack, according to state prosecutor Harald Range, who announced the charges on Thursday (8.11.2012).

Zschäpe is the only surviving member of the right-wing extremist group National Socialist Underground (NSU). Her two accomplices shot themselves one year ago. A trial will also begin for four other individuals who are accused of having supported the terrorists.

Clarification to come

Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich raises his hands defensively in German Parliament (Photo: Michael Gottschalk/dapd)

Friedrich defended himself against charges of mishandling the NSU case

"The accusations have been made, clarification will come," said German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich in a parliamentary debate one year after the exposure of the series of murders. He explicitly thanked the many civil servants involved in the investigative work over the last 12 months. "The promise that we will shed light on this still stands," Friedrich said.

His assessment, however, isn't shared by the opposition party.

"What they've done over the last year isn't enough," said Eva Högl of the Social Democratic Party (SPD). She reviewed the case as part of a parliamentary inquiry. Friedrich, she said, has been "unengaged and unimaginative" throughout the proceedings. Nor did he show enough dedication in upholding the German constitution when files relevant to the case were shredded.

"He has lost an unbelievable amount of trust," said Högl.

Just over a year ago, on November 4, 2011, a motor home went up in flames in Eisenach, a town of 43,000 in the central German state of Thuringia. Inside the motor home were two bank robbers that police had hoped to capture.

What authorities found instead were the two charred bodies of men who had already shot themselves. They were the terrorists Uwe Böhnhardt and Uwe Mundlos. Days later their accomplice, Beate Zschäpe, was taken into custody. The details of their crimes, which came to public attention in the following weeks, shocked Germany.

Högl (Photo: Michael Gottschalk/dapd)

Högl opposed reforms to security agencies

For years the trio had been shooting small business owners who had immigrated to Germany from Turkey or Greece. They did so in broad daylight inside the owners' shops and stores. They are also suspected of murdering a female police officer and detonating a bomb on a busy street in a neighborhood of Cologne heavily populated by immigrants.

The spree of violence went unremarked upon for 10 years. In their investigations of the incidents, the police are accused of never giving serious consideration to the possibility that a right-wing extremist group was behind the crimes. Instead they assumed that a group of organized criminals originating in countries outside of Germany were responsible. The investigative committee called the unknown group 'Bosporus' - a reference to the strait separating east and west Istanbul.

"An investigation with racist undertones"

Watch video 01:36

Terror cell sparks intelligence inquiry

"The German state brought this upon its itself," said Wolfgang Wieland of the Green party. Petra Pau, a member of the Left party, called the investigation "one sided" and added that it had "racist undertones."

Even representatives of the governing coalition of Christian conservatives and free-market liberal FDP were appalled one year on. "We're talking about a grave loss of faith in the competence of security authorities," the FDP's Hartfrid Wolff said.

Hans-Peter Uhl of the Christian Social Union, the Bavarian sister party to Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, warned civil servants to avoid prejudicial racism. "This country does not turn a blind eye. It never has, it doesn't now, and it never will."

A skinhead aggressively shouts to the left of the photo's frame at something happening in the distance. (Photo: privat/dapd)

NSU right-wing terrorist Uwe Böhnhardt in Thuringia in 1996

The accusation was echoed by head of the Turkish Community organization in Germany, Kenan Kolat. Many citizens ask themselves "whether the desire to clarify things truly exists," he said, adding that Germany has a "gigantic problem with racism."

Even the government ombudswoman for the victims off the NSU, Barbara John (SPD), criticized investigative authorities for living in a "self-contained world."

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