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NSU trial defendants

Martin Lejeune /aiMay 5, 2013

The long-awaited trial of Beate Zschäpe and four alleged supporters of the National Socialist Underground (NSU) has begun in Munich. But who are the defendants charged with involvement in 10 murders?

The Munich courtroom (photo: REUTERS/Michael Dalder)
NSU trialImage: Reuters

At the end of 2012, the federal prosecutor's office in Karlsruhe brought charges against Beate Zschäpe, the alleged member of the National Socialist Underground (NSU) and four alleged supporters and accomplices. From official examination records and information posted online by the leftist group, Anti-Fascist Action (Antifa), many facts about the five defendants' biographies are already out before the trial has even started. 

The 37-year-old principal defendant, Beate Zschäpe, is accused of taking part in the murder of eight Germans of Turkish background and one with Greek roots, as well as the murder of one police officer. She is also accused of attempted murder by participating in alleged NSU bomb attacks in Cologne.

Privileged daughter with extreme right views

Zschäpe's extreme right background is undisputed. Many pictures and videos show her at far-right demonstrations in multiple German cities. At age 18, she joined a Neo-Nazi group in Jena, where she met future NSU members, Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Böhnhardt. Even though Zschäpe comes from a privileged academic family, she left school after grade 10 and worked as a house painter's helper.

Beate Zschäpe (photo: Bundeskriminalamt/dapd)
Zschäpe is the only surviving member of the terrorist trioImage: Bundeskriminalamt/dapd

In 1998, police found weapons and Nazi propaganda in her apartment. Back then, Zschäpe was already suspected of building bombs. When police put out a warrant for her arrest, she went into hiding and when the NSU's cover was blown in 2011, she allegedly caused an explosion in a house in Zwickau, Germany, to wipe out evidence.

Former NPD members

Two former NPD functionaries from Thuringia Ralf, Wohlleben (37) and Carsten S. (33), are accused of having taken part in procuring the pistol the terrorist cell used in the murders. Before Wohlleben started his political career in the NPD, he and the three NSU terrorists - Böhnhardt, Mundlos and Zschäpe - founded the neo-Nazi group "Kameradschaft Jena." Together with Carsten S., Wohlleben was also part of an umbrella organization of right-wing groups, called Thüringer Heimatschutz.

Wohlleben worked as a freelance web designer. Carsten S. was a certified car painter. He claims to have left the right-wing scene in 2000 after he professed to being gay, saying that he was no longer accepted in the scene. He has offered to be the prosecution's key witness and has admitted to having bought the weapon and handing it over to Wohlleben. Wohlleben has also been incriminated by another witness, who claims that Wohlleben, over a period of many years, regularly provided Bönhardt, Mundlos and Zschäpe with money.

Pink panther video

André E. (33) from Brandenburg is charged with having been part of the bomb attack in Cologne and of participating in several robberies. As a day job he ran a video company in Zwickau and allegedly was behind the production of the so-called Pink Panther video in which the NSU admitted its crimes and mocked the victims. After the existence of the terror cell was uncovered, apparently highly incriminating evidence was found in André E.'s mobile home, which ultimately led to him being charged.

Uwe Boehnhardt (M (Foto vom 01.01.96). ) und den spaeteren stellvertretenden NPD-Landesvorsitzenden Ralf Wohlleben (r. ), aufgenommen im Herbst 1996 in Erfurt im Umfeld eines Prozesses gegen den Holocaust-Leugner Manfred Roeder. Bundesinnenminister Hans-Peter Friedrich (CSU) geht dem Hinweis nach, dass ein weiterer Beschuldigter im Ermittlungsverfahren gegen die Terrorzelle Nationalsozialistischer Untergrund (NSU) moeglicherweise vor zehn Jahren in der rechtsextremistischen NPD V-Mann fuer eine deutsche Sicherheitsbehoerde war. Wie der "Spiegel" unter Berufung auf Sicherheitskreise berichtet, soll es sich dabei um den langjaehrigen NPD-Kader Ralf Wohlleben handeln, der seit November 2011 als mutmasslicher Terrorhelfer des NSU in Untersuchungshaft sitzt. Die Bundesanwaltschaft wirft Wohlleben Beihilfe zu mehrfachem Mord vor; unter anderem soll der Rechtsextremist eine zentrale Rolle bei der Beschaffung der Pistole gespielt haben, mit der die Terrorzelle zwischen September 2000 und April 2006 neun Einwanderer ermordete. (zu dapd-Text) Foto: privat/dapd
Ralf Wohlleben (right) pictured with Uwe BöhnhardtImage: privat/dapd

The indictment against forklift driver, Holger G. (38), states that he had supported the NSU. He is originally from Jena, but lives in Hanover. Between 1997 and 2004, he is said to have been a member of the militant right-wing group "Free Nationalists of Hanover," but allegedly has since turned his back on right-wing violence. Holger G. is not denying the charges. He told the prosecution that as late as May 2011 he met with Böhnhard, Mundlos and Zschäpe, providing Böhnhard with a new passport. Since he looked a lot like Böhnhardt, he had provided him over the last decade or so with IDs, a driver's license and a health insurance card.

Key supporter

His depositions so far have been highly incriminating of Ralf Wohlleben. According to Holger G, Wohlleben played a key role in the circle of NSU supporters. The fact that G. is providing information on Wohlleben has been rewarded by the authorities with the retraction of the arrest warrant against him.

With the number of NSU supporters currently said to be 129, many people are asking why only four of them are on trial. The authorities have responded by saying that the exhaustive investigations were still ongoing.