Fotostrecke

Photo Gallery: A Terror Cell with Many Ties

Foto: dapd

Network of Evil Twenty People May Have Helped German Terrorists

While German police made one mistake after the next in their investigation of the Zwickau terrorist cell, the three neo-Nazis, who had gone underground, were able to rely on outside helpers. Authorities now believe up to 20 people may have been part of their support network.
Von SPIEGEL Staff

Uwe Böhnhardt and Uwe Mundlos were sitting in their camper. Their arsenal included two pump-action shotguns, a Mossberg and a Winchester, a Croatian-made Pleter submachine gun and a .38 Special revolver. And then there was the Ceska, not the one they used in the murders of Turks and another foreigner, which was in their apartment in Zwickau, but a Ceska 70. There were also a hand grenade and the two Heckler & Koch P2000 semi-automatic pistols, which they had stolen from the police officers they had shot in the head in Heilbronn, Michèle Kiesewetter, who was killed, and Martin A., who was seriously injured.

Sitting in their camper in Eisenach, a small city in the eastern German state of Thuringia, Böhnhardt and Mundlos had enough weapons to wage a small war. And yet they must have known that they were trapped, because of two other items they had that are now in the police inventory of exhibits found in the camper: a radio scanner, as well as a list of scanner codes for the police, fire department and emergency services.

This means that they also must have known that they wouldn't get away this time, and that none of their weapons would do them any good, nor would the forged passport made out to a Max B. but with Mundlos's photo inside. They could no longer count on police errors to save their skin, as had happened so often in the past, or on anyone in the support network they had relied on for so long. They knew it was over. As the post-mortem examination showed, Mundlos shot Böhnhardt in the left temple and then put the gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger.

An Indictment of the System

For years, a tight network had supported, protected and shielded the two men and their female accomplice, Beate Zschäpe. Now a different network, one comprised of law enforcement officials, was closing in. It had made many mistakes in the past -- sometimes turning up in the wrong place and sometimes striking too early -- and it was so full of holes that the trio was never caught.

Today, two weeks after the death of Böhnhardt and Mundlos, investigators with Germany's Federal Office of Criminal Investigation (BKA) have managed to reconstruct both networks. The BKA's "Trio" task force is asking itself the same questions that have perplexed many people throughout Germany, the answers to which are beginning to sound like an indictment of the system: Who, among the investigative authorities, failed so miserably? Was there even a secret alliance, a so-called "brown government scandal," as the German newspaper Die Zeit promptly claimed in reference to the color associated with neo-Nazis?

And who exactly belonged to the network of right-wing extremist supporters, a group that was never noticed or uncovered by police? Early in the game, the investigators ruled out the possibility that the three neo-Nazis, on the run from authorities since 1998, were somehow able to live in Germany for about 14 years, and even commit murders, bombings and bank robberies  throughout the country, without a support network. Nevertheless, the number that the Thuringia state branch of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), Germany's domestic intelligence service, cited internally last week does come as a surprise. It estimates that a protective ring of about 20 people had surrounded the terrorist cell that called itself the "National Socialist Underground," or NSU. Were they all just hangers-on, or were they also confidants and even accomplices, familiar with incriminating evidence like a video the trio had made in which they claimed responsibility for 10 murders, including the serial killings of nine immigrants? Whatever role they played, the fact that the support network was so large now makes the authorities' failures all the more humiliating.

More Suspects Expected

The German Federal Prosecutor's Office now officially lists five men and Zschäpe as defendants in the case. It is also investigating a number of their contacts, but it already seems clear that there will be other suspects.

It is becoming clear how closely affiliated the trio of terrorists and their supporters were with the right-wing extremist National Democratic Party (NPD). The authorities are now searching for Ralf Wohlleben, a former NPD deputy chairman in the Thuringia state chapter of the party, who they believe is a key figure. The investigations have also reignited a debate over banning the NPD. In addition, the alarming developments are also raising questions over the future of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), which although it is the agency responsible for monitoring right-wing extremism in Germany failed to recognize what was brewing in Thuringia -- and this despite having placed at least three informants in circles tied to the terrorists.

The investigations now reach back well in the 1990s. Böhnhardt, Mundlos and Zschäpe, despite living under the radar of the authorities, could rely on a solid support network. It consisted of fellow right-wing extremists, most of whom were members of a militant far-right group called Thüringer Heimatschutz (TSH), loosely translated as the Thuringia Homeland Protection, which modeled itself on the Nazi paramilitary organization SA.

Domestic intelligence agents noted that the THS had been holding meetings on a weekly basis since May 1995, and that the number of neo-Nazi thugs in the group had grown from 20 to 80. In August 1995, the agents first became aware of a local group affiliated with the TSH called the "Kameradschaft Jena," or "Jena Fellowship." In the same year, the State Office of Criminal Investigation formed the "Rex Special Commission," a task force of 15 to 20 members, which was headed by an experienced intelligence agent from the West and whose mission was to combat growing far right-wing violence.

'Everyone Knew He Was an Important Figure Among Neo-Nazis'

The task force soon had its sights set on Böhnhardt, Mundlos and Zschäpe, as well as five others, at least four of whom are now playing a role in the search for the trio's support network: André K., the "Fuehrer" of the Jena Fellowship; Ralf Wohlleben, who investigators questioned on Thursday; Mark-Rüdiger H. and Holger G., who was arrested a week ago. The campers Mundlos and Böhnhardt had used in Eisenach and during the murder of a police officer in the southwestern city of Heilbronn were registered under Holger G.'s name. And, as authorities have recently learned, the getaway car that was used in connection with an April 2006 murder in the western city of Dortmund was also rented under his name.

Holger G. was from the Lobeda neighborhood in Jena, a small university city in Thuringia. Like Böhnhardt, Mundlos and Zschäpe, he had grown up in one of the prefabricated Plattenbau housing projects where the prospects of living a decent life had vanished with the demise of East Germany. He lived there with his mother. Former neighbors remember G. as someone who dressed in combat boots and a bomber jacket, and who would get drunk with his friends and verbally abuse other residents.

"Everyone knew that he was an important figure among the neo-Nazis," a former teacher says today. When three fake letter bombs were sent in late 1996 and early 1997, including one to the police headquarters building in Jena, Holger G. was one of the 15 suspects, but the case was later closed.

A 1995 report by the state office of the BfV in the Thuringian capital city Erfurt concluded that there were "indications of the formation of right-wing extremist terrorist groups," although it lacked hard evidence. But by January 1998, it must have been clear to everyone involved that these Nazis in Jena were not only filled with murderous hatred, but that their rage was also a sufficiently powerful motivation to commit murder. When, on Jan. 26, 1998, the police raided a garage that Zschäpe, Böhnhardt and Mundlos had rented, they found 1.4 kilograms (3.1 lbs.) of TNT.

A 1998 Warning of 'New Neo-Nazi Terrorist Threat'

A few months later, in May 1998, the BfV printed an excerpt from a local newspaper, the Thüringische Landeszeitung, in their in-house newsletter. The article, which cited anonymous sources within the agency, stated that Böhnhardt, Mundlos and Zschäpe, who had since gone underground, were "indicative of the development of a new nationwide neo-Nazi terrorist threat." That warning, it turned out, was farsighted.

Thus, in 1998, it was already clear that agents with the state intelligence service were fully aware of the threat. They joined forces with their counterparts in the neighboring eastern state of Saxony and began tapping phone lines and observing members of radical groups. Meanwhile, the neo-Nazis seemed prepared to do anything, which included providing support to their friends underground. In other words, there were two networks. But why was it that the extremists' network was so much more effective than that established by the authorities? The investigators were making one mistake after the next. In some ways, the situation resembled a case involving another terrorist cell: the Hamburg group headed by Mohammed Atta, which went undetected for months while it planned its attack on the United States.

Investigative Mistakes

The first mistake was made when the rented garage was searched. During their surveillance of Böhnhardt, Mundlos and Zschäpe between Nov. 24 and Dec. 1, 1997, the BfV agents observed the trio taking pipes out of an apartment, as well as buying a canister of denatured alcohol and rubber rings. They took the materials to the garage. But the agents were still not entirely certain that the three neo-Nazis were actually building bombs. To investigate the garage, the State Office of Criminal Investigation (LKA) served Böhnhardt with a search warrant, to which he responded by disappearing, unhindered.

What is even more astounding, in retrospect, is that the public prosecutor's office did not investigate the extremists for forming a terrorist organization, which would have kept up the pressure on law enforcement to find the trio in the course of the next decade. Instead, arrest warrants were issued against them for preparing an attack with explosives -- a crime that comes under the statute of limitations after only five years.

The next blunder came in the fall of 1999, when there was still no trace of the trio. This time it happened in the northwestern state of Lower Saxony. Officials at the BfV branch in Thuringia had requested assistance from their counterparts in Lower Saxony, because Holger G., the neo-Nazi from Jena, had moved to the state capital Hanover with his mother in 1997. He was still shouting radical right-wing slogans and marching through cities with his fellow extremists. The agents in Thuringia suspected that Böhnhardt, Mundlos and Zschäpe, who were at large, would try to establish contact with Holger G. They also speculated that the trio might contact Thorsten Heise, a neo-Nazi in Northeim south of Hanover, to help them establish ties to right-wing radicals abroad. In their written request, the agents in Thuringia made specific mention of "right-wing terrorists."

When the intelligence agents in Lower Saxony placed Holger G. under surveillance, they noticed that he was making calls from a public pay phone even though he was carrying a mobile phone. They suspended the surveillance after three days and classified G. as a "supporter." It was a serious mistake, as Hans-Werner Wargel, the head of Lower Saxony's state BfV office, admitted last week. It would soon become apparent that Holger G. was clearly more than a casual supporter.

By 2005, the intelligence agents had lost track of Holger G. He moved in with his wife, who had two children of her own, and worked as a forklift operator and occasionally at a gas station. In 2009, his file was deleted from NADIS, the German domestic intelligence database. It wasn't until two weeks ago that the state intelligence agents in Hanover realized that by deleting Holger G.'s file they had lost sight of a man who is believed to have actively supported a terrorist group.

The Biggest Mistake Yet

But the biggest mistake was made in 2000, by the agents in Thuringia. Böhnhardt and Mundlos, both avowed xenophobes, had not yet begun a killing spree that would claim the lives of nine immigrants -- a series of crimes that would have investigators scratching their heads for years. That was when the BfV and the State Office of Criminal Investigation requested the assistance of their counterparts in Saxony. Soon after, the agents in Saxony presented them with a surveillance photo that they had taken near the city of Chemnitz in the state. But their counterparts in Thuringia were still unconvinced and decided to contact the Federal Office of Criminal Investigation. According to a letter in the BfV files, the BKA noted that the man in the surveillance photo was "probably" Böhnhardt.

At the time, everyone -- from the state intelligence agency to the BfV's national headquarters in Cologne, which was involved in the manhunt for the trio and had periodically had their friends Ralf Wohlleben and André K. under surveillance -- was waiting for the lead agency in the case, the state police in Thuringia, to take action. But, amazingly enough, nothing happened, and even today no one can explain why.

Although many are now pointing their fingers at the BfV state branch in Erfurt, others also made mistakes. But given the way the agency operated at the time, it was practically predestined to fail. The former head of the agency, Helmut Roewer, assured the Thuringia state Interior Ministry in writing that the individuals involved were "not sources for the agency." However, under Roewer, an import to Thuringia from a western German state with a goatee and a maverick reputation, there appeared to be few gray zones into which the intelligence service would not have ventured. Roewer himself took on an alias, "Stephan Seeberg," and he sometimes had up to 60,000 deutsche marks in his safe, the purpose of which was unclear. And as far as sources were concerned, he had few inhibitions until he was let go in 2000.

The most important source within the neo-Nazi environment was Tino Brandt, now 36, the then deputy state chairman of the NPD and head of the Thüringer Heimatschutz (THS) -- and, starting in 1994, Roewer's key informant. His code name was "Otto." In addition to being well connected with the NPD leadership in Berlin, Brandt also had close ties to the Jena Fellowship.

The next informant was also no minor player, but rather the head of the Thuringian section of the neo-Nazi music network Blood & Honour. For the state intelligence agency, having him and Brandt, two of the most important neo-Nazis in Thuringia at the time, on its payroll was a coup.

According to sources within the Thuringian state government, in addition to these two key contacts there was a third informant associated with the neo-Nazis in Jena. In no other German state did the intelligence agency have such high-level access to the right-wing extremist scene as in Thuringia, and still it had such a poor grasp of what was happening before its own eyes.

Of course, these informants were constantly providing their handlers with all manner of gossip, as well as a few hard facts. But none of it did any good, nor did the telephone surveillance. One intelligence report, for example, stated that the telephone surveillance of André K. with the Jena Fellowship had revealed that Böhnhardt, Mundlos and Zschäpe had intended to flee to South Africa. But to this date, the investigators have no evidence whatsoever that the trio actually traveled to South Africa.

A Deep Divide Between Police and Intelligence Agency

Now it is also becoming clear how deep the divide between the police and the state intelligence agency was in Thuringia. According to individuals involved in the case at the time, they were more likely to operate at cross-purposes than to cooperate. A senior official on the Rex task force says today that Roewer had in fact thwarted their efforts by telling them that the crimes committed by the radical right-wingers were no longer that significant. Perhaps Roewer was trying to protect his top sources. The police had noted several times that when questioned, neo-Nazi leader Tino Brandt, who was being watched by the state police office, had revealed internal aspects of the investigation. "There were apparently political reasons for disbanding the Rex task force," claims the former senior member of the group. "At the time, the state police office also completely underestimated the threat posed by Böhnhardt, Mundlos, Zschäpe and those associated with them."

Roewer takes a different view of the intelligence breakdown, saying that back then there were suspicions of a leak within the police force. For this reason, he explains, the state interior minister had instructed the intelligence service to search for the neo-Nazi trio with a targeted manhunt, in addition to identifying the possible leak within the police force. This, according to Roewer, required tremendous resources and drove the agency to the limits of its capabilities.

An independent commission headed by Gerhard Schäfer, a former federal judge, will now investigate whether Roewer's accusations or those of the police are true.

An internal memorandum from the state intelligence agency, written in 2001, reveals how close the agents repeatedly came to the terrorist cell, despite the many breakdowns. It states that Jena Fellowship member Ralf Wohlleben had told an informant that the group's contact to the parents of the trio was "impaired" at the time. For the agents, this meant that the three suspects, despite being in hiding, were apparently still in touch with relatives, possibly with the assistance of couriers within the right-wing extremist communities. But why was nothing done with this information?

Was it because the agents, at some point, stopped caring where Böhnhardt, Mundlos and Zschäpe were, just as long as they didn't resurface? When the statute of limitations expired in 2003, and the police took down the wanted posters in their precincts, the case was also more or less settled for both the BfV in Cologne and the state intelligence agency in Thuringia. They had lost their last leads, but even worse was the fact that they had lost their sense of proper analysis.

Contacts with About 20 Members of Far-Right Groups

No one asked the obvious question, which was why three hardcore neo-Nazis who had had to disappear didn't resurface when the statute of limitations expired. There were only three possible answers: They were either dead, had gone abroad or had committed new crimes that prevented them from coming out of hiding.

The third option was apparently inconceivable for German intelligence agents. "Notwithstanding the fact that the 'bombmakers of Jena' managed to escape arrest for years, there is no effective support network that would have made it possible to operate effectively from the underground," a classified BfV document from July 2004 reads. The authors of the situation report, which addresses the "threat of an armed campaign by German right-wing extremists" since 1997, conclude: "The only possibility at this time is 'part-time terrorism' conducted by very small groups or individuals … If anything, attacks on property, rather than individuals, are more likely."

At this time, in 2004, the neo-Nazis had apparently already shot and killed five immigrants. But the intelligence agencies were still completely off mark with their assessment that potential terrorists operating underground lacked the necessary support structure.

It wasn't as if the trio had only one or two backers. The files now indicate that about 20 members of far-right groups in Thuringia were in contact with Böhnhardt, Mundlos and Zschäpe after they disappeared from the radar, some only in the first few years and others right up until the end. It is unlikely that they all knew that Böhnhardt and Mundlos were shooting immigrants and police officers or laying bombs. But authorities suspect that some did know that they were helping a group of murderers.

André K., for example, is on the investigators' list of supporters for the early years. The leader of the Jena Fellowship was believed to be a close friend of Böhnhardt and Mundlos at the time, and he is said to have helped arrange for the trio to flee to South Africa. According to sources in a closed-door session of the state parliament, André K. tried to obtain the necessary documents. He did not respond when contacted by SPIEGEL.

Sources with knowledge of the investigation, however, say that K. was also seen as unreliable, which is why Jena Fellowship member Wohlleben played a more important role during the initial period following the group's disappearance. According to an old intelligence report, Wohlleben gave the three bombmakers the keys to his car, which they used to flee until it broke down.

NPD Calls Group a 'Band of Murderers'

The names André K. and Ralf Wohlleben also reveal a connection between the NPD and the so-called Freie Kameradschaften (Free Fellowships). Officially, the NPD refers to the Zwickau trio of terrorists as a "band of murderers" and insists that it had nothing to do with these "killers." But Wohlleben was an NPD member, as was André K., and Wohlleben was not just any member. In 2002, the Jena man became the party's deputy state chairman and press spokesman, and he was an NPD candidate in elections. In 2002, he and André K. bought a bar in the Lobeda neighborhood of Jena known as the "Brown House," where the NPD regularly held its party meetings from then on.

The role the two NPD officials from Thuringia played in relation to the trio of terrorists after 2000 is unclear. Others, however, must have associated with Böhnhardt, Mundlos and Zschäpe more recently, most notably André E., 32.

A native of Zwickau, he lives with his wife Susann near a prefabricated high-rise development. He also uses the address to operate a mail-order business for right-wing extremist T-shirts and a company that installs solar panels.

But André E., who has long blonde hair, a goatee, and wears black clothing, is also involved in the production of videos and photos. Police found flyers for E.'s company, Aemedig, in the wreckage in Zwickau, which suggests that he may have helped the trio in various ways, including the production of the film in which the NSU claims responsibility for killings.

The film uses scenes from the "Pink Panther" cartoons, but with original photos from the terrorists' crime scenes pasted into the images. Whoever made the film must have known about the murders and bombings. Could Böhnhardt, Mundlos and Zschäpe have made the film on their own? Or is German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich  correct in his assessment that "according to our current information, the trio probably did not make the film"?

Two rail passes that were made out to André and Susann E., but were used by Zschäpe and Böhnhardt, also show that the couple must have supported the trio. E. also paid for the passes.

The connection is certainly consistent with the general picture. André E.'s twin brother was allegedly a member of the "Schutzbund Deutschland" (Union for the Protection of Germany), which was banned in 2006. He is now known to be an official with the "Young National Democrats," the NPD's youth organization. Susann E.'s name also appears on an order list for the clothing brand "Thor Steinar," popular in neo-Nazi circles. When camera teams appeared at the couple's apartment last week, the 32-year-old declined to answer reporters' questions.

Suspects' Stories Don't Add Up

However, Holger G., 37, now in investigative custody, has answered police questions. On the day after the police found Böhnhardt and Mundlos dead in their camper, and Zschäpe had blown up the apartment they shared in Zwickau, Holger G. received a visit from the police in Lower Saxony.

At first he claimed that he had not helped the trio, but then he admitted he had done them a favor. He also claimed that he had left the right-wing extremist scene in about 2004. At some point, he told police, Mundlos and Böhnhardt showed up at his apartment, told him that they too were cutting ties to the radical right, and asked whether he could do them a favor.

Holger G. allegedly gave the terrorists his driver's license and later his passport. His attorney, Stefan Hachmeister, says that his client "did not know what was being done with the documents."

The next right-wing radical whose story didn't add up is from Johanngeorgenstadt, a town in the Erzgebirge (Ore Mountains). A butcher by trade, Matthias D. reportedly rented an apartment in Zwickau in 1999. Apparently Zschäpe lived there under an assumed name: Susann Dienelt. In 2008, when she moved into the apartment she was to share with Böhnhardt and Mundlos, the lease was apparently in Matthias D.'s name, and the rent was also paid from his bank account. However, he claims to have had nothing to do with the group's crimes.

Max B. makes similar claims. Böhnhardt and Mundlos used his passport on their last trip, to Eisenach, replacing his photo. When the police found B. in Dresden and questioned him, he told them that the passport had been stolen years ago. "I have no idea how the Nazis got their hands on it," he said.

More Questions than Answers in Case

This is the state of the case today, two weeks after Böhnhardt and Mundlos killed themselves in their camper. There are still more questions than answers, and the film claiming responsibility for a string of murders also raises new questions. It was made in December 2007, and it ends with the announcement that it will be followed by a second DVD. Does this mean that the group continued killing, or does it confirm the suspicion that after killing the police officer in Heilbronn, the trio switched to bank robberies to raise cash?

At any rate, the DVDs must have been in the apartment for four years before they were mailed, probably by Zschäpe, shortly after her apartment was blown up. One was addressed to a local television station, one to the Party of Democratic Socialism, one to field office of a tabloid newspaper in the eastern city of Halle, one to Bavarian daily Nürnberger Nachrichten. The envelopes were not sealed and had no postage affixed, and they may have been delivered by another accomplice. It seems as if Zschäpe had intended to leave behind a testament of sorts, so that the world would learn about what had happened.

Wolfgang Heer, her attorney from Cologne, said that he advised his client to wait until the files had been examined before making any statements on the case. In her arrest warrant, she is charged with membership in a terrorist organization, but not with murder.

The police also found a USB stick in the destroyed apartment. It contained thousands of files, including a list of the names and addresses of various politicians. The neo-Nazis had written the words "red pig" next to each name. It also contained fragments of maps with red circles drawn on them. A gun shop in the northeastern German town of Neubrandenburg is on the list, as well as an election district office, Jewish cultural facilities, military bases and boarding houses for asylum applicants. Among the weapons found by federal police at the Zwickau apartment included a 9-mm Polish Radom VIS 35 pistol, the second murder weapon with which Böhnhardt and Mundlos allegedly killed the police officer in Heilbronn.

The investigations have also revealed that the trio went to Norway and Sweden. But why?

The inventory list from the Zwickau apartment also includes a wooden box "that had been prepared for the installation of a gun," as the investigators' report reads. What was it for? And what were the murderers doing with a DVD that contains an "action database" and folders titled "Nuremberg," "Dortmund" and "Munich?"

Everything has to be examined, absolutely everything -- because nothing is inconceivable anymore.

REPORTED BY JÜRGEN DAHLKAMP, UDO LUDWIG, MAXIMILIAN POPP, SVEN RÖBEL, HOLGER STARK, ANDREAS ULRICH AND STEFFEN WINTER

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan