Neo-Nazi Violence Fourth Suspected Terror-Cell Member Detained
After the arrest of a fourth suspect on Sunday, there is speculation that the neo-Nazi group calling itself the National Socialist Underground may have been bigger than initially suspected. According to investigators, Holger G., who apparently helped the group with documents and vehicles, was a well-known member of the far-right scene in Hanover.
The revelations about a Zwickau-based neo-Nazi trio who apparently carried out a series of murders over a period of years have shocked Germany. Now there is much speculation about the role of Holger G., the possible fourth member of the group.
Holger G. was arrested on Sunday and brought before a judge at Germany's Federal Court of Justice on Monday, who ordered him to be detained in custody. The German Federal Prosecutor's Office, which has now taken charge of the investigation, wanted Holger G. detained on suspicion of membership in a terrorist group. However the court's investigating judge only authorized G. to be detained on suspicion of supporting a terrorist organization.
Holger G., 37, allegedly joined forces with the neo-Nazi trio of Uwe Mundlos, Uwe Böhnhardt and Beate Zschäpe in 2007. Since G.'s arrest on Sunday in Lauenau near Hanover, there has been speculation that the Zwickau terrorist cell may have consisted of four or more people, rather than the three that are currently known. Like the others, Holger G. also has a history of involvement in the right-wing extremist scene.
A search of G.'s home provided further support for the suspicions against him, said Rainer Griesbaum, Germany's acting federal public prosecutor general, on Monday. Holger G. is alleged to have given Böhnhardt, Mundlos and Zschäpe his driver's license to use as well as his passport about four months ago. He is also said to have rented recreational vehicles for the group on several occasions. Mundlos and Böhnhardt are believed to have shot each other in a camper in the city of Eisenach on Nov. 4 following a bank robbery and are thought to have used recreational vehicles in connection with other crimes. Investigators are now looking into the question of whether Holger G. was directly involved in the murders allegedly committed by the NSU.
In recent years, Holger G. had been living in the village of Lauenau near Hanover, where he kept a low profile and apparently cultivated a respectable appearance. In the past, however, he had openly associated with the neo-Nazi scene in Hanover, even if he had not been a leader.
According to the Lower Saxony branch of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Germany's domestic intelligence agency, G. was known as a hanger-on in the far-right scene. As far as authorities knew, he was active in the scene only up until 2004, the head of the agency in Lower Saxony, Hans-Werner Wargel, said on Monday. Wargel added that the agency had deleted its data on G. in 2009, as required by law. It was possible that Holger G. had deliberately gone underground in 2004 and chose to no longer appear in public with right-wing extremists, said the Lower Saxony interior minister, Uwe Schünemann.
Holger G. originally comes from the city of Jena in the eastern German state of Thuringia. Mundlos, Böhnhardt and Zschäpe had also earlier lived in Jena. It is unclear when G. moved to the western state of Lower Saxony.
Holger G. repeatedly took part in neo-Nazi events. He is known to have participated in a meeting of right-wing extremists in Hildesheim, a city in Lower Saxony, around the New Year in 1998/1999. The local neo-Nazi scene there was considered to be extremely violent and well organized. Pictures of paramilitary training camps can be found on the Internet, and extremists there are reported to have trained with live ammunition.
The participants at the 1998/1999 meeting included important representatives of neo-Nazi groups from Langenhagen, a town next to Hanover, as well as a delegation from Celle, also in Lower Saxony. More significantly, members of a group calling itself Thüringer Heimatschutz ("Thuringian Homeland Defense"), which Zschäpe, Mundlos and Böhnhardt belonged to, were also present. Holger G. was definitely present at the meeting, according to one expert on the Hanover neo-Nazi scene. The event could have been his first contact with right-wing extremists in western Germany.
According to sources in the security forces, G. took part in a neo-Nazi demonstration in 1999 against an exhibition on war crimes committed by the German army, the Wehrmacht, during World War II. In 2003, he attended a far-right concert.
According to a report by the German public broadcaster Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk, investigators in Thuringia had first become aware of Holger G. in 1997. The broadcaster reported that G. was suspected of being involved in sending a series of fake letter bombs in Jena. At the time, authorities suspected a neo-Nazi group called the Kameradschaft Jena, to which Zschäpe, Mundlos and Böhnhardt also belonged, of being behind the attacks. The public prosecutor apparently investigated a total of 15 suspects, but the case was later dropped due to lack of evidence.
According to information obtained by SPIEGEL ONLINE, Holger G. and his brother Dirk belonged for a long time to a neo-Nazi group that was active in the Hanover district of Wiesenau. One investigator said that it was a "brutal gang" of skinheads and thugs who were suspected of numerous crimes. It is still unclear what role, if any, Dirk G., who is said to be 10 years older than Holger, played in connection with the Zwickau cell.
While living in Hanover, Holger G. had been responsible for registering a number of rallies and information stands, the investigator said. But after he moved to the quiet village of Lauenau, he apparently kept a low profile. "Perhaps he had been told to stop making public appearances," speculated the official. Authorities currently cannot explain why the three alleged far-right terrorists got Holger G. involved to rent vehicles, given that the trio appears to have had fake IDs. "It's possible that they simply did not trust these documents," said the investigator.
Anti-fascist activists still remember the brothers well today. "Both of them were known to the authorities and openly took part in the (neo-Nazi) scene," recalls one activist. Both men were apparently registered as living in Hanover. Dirk G. still lives in the city, the activist said.
According to the activist, the neo-Nazi groups in Hanover, Langenhagen and the surrounding area were extremely active up until four or five years ago. There were repeated attacks in public, and neo-Nazis marched through the streets under the leadership of a now-defunct group called Kameradschaft Celle-Hannover 77. Holger G. was regularly seen taking part, said the activist. It is not clear if he was a full member of the Kameradschaft Celle-Hannover 77 group, however.
The neo-Nazi activity only abated in 2005 when police and security agencies began to take tougher action against the well-established neo-Nazi groups known as Kameradschaften (literally "comradeships"). In recent years, the intelligence agencies have noted that such well-organized groups are on the decline. They are being replaced by more informal groupings that do not meet up on a regular basis but which only get together for events such as demonstrations.
"Today it is much calmer than it was a few years ago," says Marco Brunotte, a member of the Lower Saxony state parliament for the center-left Social Democrats who is an expert on right-wing extremism.
REPORTED BY JÖRG DIEHL, JOHANNES KORGE, BIRGER MENKE AND JENS WITTE