The World from Berlin: 'Xenophobic Crimes Have Too Often Been Minimized'

Germans have been shocked to learn in recent days of the existence of a right-wing terror cell in their midst. Media commentators say authorities were long too preoccupied with the threat of Islamist and left-wing violence -- and were prone to playing down right-wing attacks.

Beate Zschäpe, one of those suspected of belonging to a right-extremist terror group, is led to a courtroom last week. Zoom
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Beate Zschäpe, one of those suspected of belonging to a right-extremist terror group, is led to a courtroom last week.

The failure of Germany's security authorities to solve a string of racist murders committed by a neo-Nazi group since 2000 has triggered acusations that they have underestimated the far-right threat and have been too preoccupied with combating Islamic and left-wing extremism.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Monday that the case is a "disgrace for Germany." And she seems not to be alone in that assessment. Several observers, lawmakers and government officials have demanded an urgent investigation into how a trio of neo-Nazis from eastern Germany, possibly aided by accomplices, could have remained undetected for so long.

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Media commentators in Germany say the case is a major embarrassment to the police, domestic intelligence services and state prosecutors. Racist attacks on immigrants and their property, commonplace especially in the former communist east of the country ever since unification triggered economic upheaval and social dislocation, have routinely been dismissed as isolated incidents committed by thugs.

Now, however, evidence discovered by chance has uncovered a well-organized, well-armed network of killers, bombers and bank robbers -- and has made a mockery of efforts to minimize right-wing violence, say editorial writers.

Center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"It is incomprehensible and deeply disturbing: for years, a racist terrorist gang was able to rampage through Germany and execute immigrants. They were able to plan attacks, build and throw bombs. The were able to do all that because police, intelligence authorities and state prosecutors largely excluded racist motives. The crimes weren't deemed to be acts of terrorism, authorities said they were isolated cases that weren't connected and had no political background."

"This mistaken judgment reminds one of the 1980s and 1990s when asylum-seekers' hostels went up in flames. Many investigators would first declare the cause as an 'electric short circuit' or as a 'cigarette' or would say 'they're just killing each other.'"

"Xenophobic crimes have too often and for too long been minimized -- they were described as 'incidents' and 'fights.' Maybe that has to be seen as the sad prelude when it comes to answering the question of how it was possible that Nazi terrorism remained undetected -- and wouldn't have been detected if two perpetrators hadn't killed themselves."

"Would this have been imaginable in the era of the Red Army Faction? (editor's note: the left-wing terrorst group that waged a campaign of assassinations, bombings and kidnappings in the 1970s and 1980s). In those days, 'wanted' posters hung in every post office. And could Muslim bombmakers have lived in Germany undetected for so long? There's a strangely phlegmatic indifference: It may conceal a scandal involving the domestic intelligence authority -- a terrible lack of professionalism linked to an 'oh well' attitude that says: right-wing extremists aren't really terrorists, are they?"

"For decades, left-wing extremists in Germany were seen as intelligent and dangerous, right-wing extremists as stupid and therefore harmless. Neo-Nazis were and are too often dismissed as idiots: and when they set fire to foreigners' homes or kick people to death, they were seen as individual perpetrators. But a terrorist crime remains a terrorist crime even if no brazenly pretentious claim of responsibility is sent to a news agency the next day."

"Before banning the NPD one would have to ban the informants in its midst -- then one could ban the NPD. But first the state must stop regarding left-wing extremists and Islamists as more dangerous than right-wing extremists. As long as it does that, the state is being irresponsibly stupid."

Conservative Die Welt writes:

"If what has become known so far is true, then the scandal is that the investigating authorities (and the public) didn't detect the pattern of crimes or perhaps didn't want to detect them. Nine strikingly similar crimes were dismissed as local disputes. A resolute, comprehensive investigation is now needed."

"One has to investigate whether this is an eastern German phenomenon or whether there has been a certain institutional leniency in dealing with the far-right scene. The reputation of the reunited nation, of its institutions and of its general public is at stake."

Left-wing Berliner Zeitung writes:

"The usual reflex reactions like calling for a ban on the NPD aren't very helpful. Everything known so far suggests that the perpetrators withdrew themselves from the unwritten rules of the far-right scene. The appear to have relied on just a handful of helpers. The trio purposefully maneuvered itself into a Bonny and Clyde community in which their own death was no longer seen as a threat. One can assume that conventional means of violence prevention wouldn't have affected them. The priority now must be to shed slight on what the police and domestic intelligence agency knew and when they knew it."

Conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"The most important questions should address the work of the domestic intelligency agency, police and state prosecutors: were there hidden links with neo-Nazi clubs, cliques and "Kameradschaften" (editor's note: far-right groups) in Thuringia, Saxony and elsewhere that may have been regarded as more important than solving crimes? Whether the states -- and there was scarcely a state in which the trio didn't leave traces in more than 10 years -- had an effective system of exchanging information? And whether it wasn't a fatal error to regard right-wing extremist violence largely as a purely local, at most regional phenomenon, as a provinvial, idiotic counter-point to the all-overriding Islamist terror?"

Tabloid Bild writes:

"The cowardly criminals and their neo-Nazi views were known to the authorities in a different context. Despite all the informants available, they weren't stopped. Were the domestic intelligence agents and police blind to the far-right risk? This question must be answered very quickly. The credibility of the police and the domestic intelligence authority are at stake."

-- David Crossland

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