Suspect Remains Silent on Charges: Doubts Grow in Case Against Neo-Nazi Group

Prosecutors in Germany are worried the most serious charge against the sole surviving member of a murderous neo-Nazi group may collapse. Beate Zschäpe's refusal to speak about the alleged crimes is complicating efforts to prove she was a part of a terrorist organization, sources say. That could leave her facing far less jail time if convicted.

The Federal Criminal Police Office is appealing to the public for help in clearing up the murders. Zoom
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The Federal Criminal Police Office is appealing to the public for help in clearing up the murders.

At first the evidence against Germany's Zwickau terror cell appeared to be overwhelming. Police found the weapons used in a seven-year killing spree in the trio's burned-out trailer and apartment, as well as a DVD claiming responsibility for at least 10 murders.

But now doubts are growing over whether Beate Zschäpe, the sole surviving suspect in the killings, can be successfully prosecuted on charges of being a member of a terrorist organization. According to a report in the Wednesday edition of the national Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, the case against Zschäpe and four suspected accomplices is on shaky ground.

The suspects are accused of membership in a terrorist organization and of supporting a terrorist group. But Zschäpe, who is alleged to have formed the far-right, neo-Nazi terrorist group National Socialist Underground (NSU) together with Uwe Böhnhardt and Uwe Mundlos, is refusing to answer questions from police and prosecutors about the alleged crimes. If she refuses to provide information, it will be difficult, or perhaps impossible, to prove the existence of a terrorist organization, sources close to the investigation told the newspaper.

If it cannot be proved that Zschäpe was a member of a terrorist organization, then the terrorism charges would have to be dropped, an unnamed, high-ranking law enforcement official told the newspaper. According to German law, a terrorist organization must by definition consist of at least three members. If those charges are dropped, then it is possible that Zschäpe could only be prosecuted on arson charges. On Nov. 4, Zschäpe is alleged to have set the Zwickau apartment where she had lived together with Böhnhardt and Mundlos on fire after police closed in on the trio following a bank robbery. According to the authorities, Mundlos had shot Böhnhardt in a recreational vehicle in Eisenach earlier that day before shooting himself.

Lack of Evidence

The case against the group's alleged supporters is also threatening to collapse, the Süddeutsche reported. The suspected terror helpers are accused of having supplied the trio with documents, places to live and weapons after they went underground in 1998. But so far, it has been impossible to prove that any of the four individuals who are currently in custody actually knew about the Zwickau cell's criminal activities, sources told the newspaper.

Three of them, including Ralf Wohlleben, a former official in the far-right National Democratic Party who was arrested on Nov. 29, are now refusing to make statements. No new evidence was obtained during any of the previous interrogations, sources said. It is also unclear how long the four men can be detained in custody if they cannot be proved to have supported a terrorist organization.

The revelations about the string of murders attributed to the Zwickau cell have come as a shock both in Germany and abroad. The neo-Nazis are believed to have killed nine men of Turkish and Greek origin as well as a police officer during a seven-year killing spree. The discovery of the cell has sparked a renewed debate in Germany over whether the country is doing enough to fight neo-Nazi groups and if the government should launch a fresh effort to ban the right-wing extremist National Democratic Party (NPD), which holds seats in parliament in the eastern German states of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Saxony. A previous effort to ban the party failed in 2003 after it was revealed that informants for Germany's intelligence agencies held senior positions in the NPD.

dgs -- with wires

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