Neo-Nazi Trial: Tearful Testimony Hints at Unknown Attack
Carsten S. had already admitted to procuring a gun for the murderous neo-Nazi trio known as the NSU. On Tuesday, he indicated that the group had perpetrated an additional bombing that authorities were unaware of. He also exculpated the main defendant, Beate Zschäpe.
After 18 months of intense media attention, legal investigations and parliamentary hearings, it seemed unlikely that the ongoing trial against the neo-Nazi terror trio National Socialist Underground (NSU) would bring new crimes to light. But on Tuesday, co-defendant Carsten S. abandoned any attempts to withhold information from the court -- and seemed to indicate that one more attack can be added to the NSU's long list of violent misdeeds.
A tearful Carsten S., at times blubbering so badly that he could not be understood, told the court that Uwe Böhnhardt and Uwe Mundlos -- the two deceased members of the NSU who committed suicide in November 2011 -- implied to him at the end of 1999 or the beginning of 2000 that they had "placed a flashlight in a store in Nuremberg."
Only later, he testified, did he begin to think the "flashlight" might have been an explosive. The judge expressed surprise: "Why didn't you say anything about this earlier? I haven't read this in any deposition." The response from Carsten S.: "I only just now came to the conclusion that it is time to come clean." Regarding the flashlight, he said: "There was perhaps an earlier attempted attack that I blocked out."
It certainly isn't impossible that the story told by Carsten S. is true. The NSU, which stands accused of murdering 10 people between 2000 and 2007 in addition to perpetrating several bomb attacks and bank robberies, was just getting started when the meeting referenced by Carsten S. took place in a café in the Galeria Kaufhof department store in Chemnitz. It was, in fact, during that meeting that Carsten S. handed over the Ceska handgun he had obtained for the trio -- a weapon that was used to kill nine of the 10 murder victims.
Newsmagazine Stern reported that a bomb did in fact go off in a restaurant run by a Turkish man in Nuremberg in 1999, referring to a contemporary story in the city newspaper Nürnberger Nachrichten. Federal prosecutors, however, said they are unaware of the incident.
Böhnhardt and Mundlos killed themselves as police closed in on them in Eisenach following a bank robbery. The third member of the group, Beate Zschäpe -- who is the primary defendant in the ongoing trial -- immediately set the trio's house on fire in Zwickau, presumably to destroy evidence. It was only when police discovered the Ceska pistol while investigating the two events that they realized the trio was likely responsible for a string of murders targeting small business owners with foreign roots. Until that moment, police had thought the murders were the result of Turkish underworld infighting; the German press had referred to the killing simply as the "doner killings" because the victims included two doner kebab shop owners.
Carsten S., who admitted to having supplied the murder weapon in testimony last week, has since turned his back on right-wing extremism, though he had been wary of incriminating his former comrades.
That changed on Tuesday. He told the court that Ralf Wohlleben, a co-defendant who stands accused of providing material support to the NSU, knew that the trio had committed serious crimes. Wohlleben, S. said, spoke on the phone with the NSU trio in his presence and afterwards chuckled and reported that the three had shot someone. It is the first solid indication thus far that Wohlleben knew of the NSU's criminal activity.
But the trial's primary defendant, Zschäpe, had an easier day of it on Tuesday. During the meeting with Böhnhardt and Mundlos in Chemnitz, Carten S. said that Zschäpe joined them just as they were talking about the "flashlight" in the Nuremberg store. They immediately went silent and said "Shh, so that she doesn't hear."
It has yet to be proven, after all, that Zschäpe knew about the crimes being committed by Mundlos and Böhnhardt.
cgh -- With reporting by Gisela Friedrichsen
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Charge: complicity in 10 homicides, two bomb attacks and 15 armed robberies, membership in a terrorist organization, attempted murder and arson
Pre-trial detention: since November 8, 2011
NSU links: Zschäpe is believed to be a founding member of the NSU terror cell. According to the federal prosecutor's office, she and the group's two other members, Uwe Böhnhardt and Uwe Mundlos -- both of whom are deceased -- held roles of equal importance within the cell. It is believed that Zschäpe did not carry out any murders herself, but was indispensable to the NSU group. According to the prosecution, Zschäpe helped to create a veneer of normalcy for the terror cell. She was in charge of logistics, served as accountant and rented vehicles for the group. In addition, she archived articles discussing the crimes of the terror cell and allegedly was involved in procuring a weapon and false documents. Finally, the 37-year-old is believed to have set fire to the apartment that had served as the final hiding place for the trio and to have sent out DVDs in which the group claimed responsibility for the crimes.
Charge: accessory to murder in nine cases
Pre-trial detention: since November 29, 2011
NSU links: Wohlleben, born in 1975, allegedly helped the terror trio financially when they went into hiding in 1998 and provided them with money later. In late 1999 or early 2000, Wohlleben, a former functionary of the far-right NPD party, allegedly helped the group acquire a handgun and ammunition with the aid of a courier. The semi-automatic Ceska 83 was identified as the murder weapon in nine cases of homicide involving small business owners and employees of foreign descent.
Charge: support of a terrorist organization in three cases
Pre-trial detention: November 13, 2011 until May 25, 2012
NSU links: Holger G., born in 1974, is believed to have been in contact with the terror trio since the late 1990s. He allegedly gave over his drivers' license, a health insurance card and his passport to the NSU, enabling its members to act covertly and commit racially motivated crimes. He also transported a weapon for the terrorists. G. confessed his crimes in a comprehensive statement to the investigators.
Charge: accessory to murder in nine cases
Pre-trial detention: February 1 until May 29, 2012
NSU links: Carsten S. -- allegedly with money from Ralf Wohlleben -- bought the weapon that killed nine small business owners and employees. The 32-year-old also delivered the handgun to the terror cell in Chemnitz. S. has acknowledged his involvement in a comprehensive confession to the federal prosecutor's office.
Charge: support of a terrorist organization, complicity in a bomb attack and accessory to robbery
Pre-trial detention: November 23, 2011 until June 14, 2012
NSU links: The trained stonemason allegedly assisted the terror cell starting in the 1990s, helping them with car rentals and the lease for an apartment. The 33-year-old and his wife allegedly visited the NSU-members regularly, and E. allowed Zschäpe to pose as his wife in 2006.