German federal prosecutors have brought formal charges against supporters and the sole surviving member of the National Socialist Underground, a neo-Nazi cell suspected of committing 10 murders, two bomb attacks and 15 armed robberies over the past 12 years.
The charges against the cell member, Beate Zschäpe, included 10 counts of being an accessory to murder. They were announced on Thursday by Germany's chief federal prosecutor's office and the Higher Regional Court in Munich, where the Zschäpe trial is to take place.
Federal Prosecutor General Harald Range said charges have also been filed on four others suspected of aiding the neo-Nazi cell. Two suspects, Ralf Wohlleben, a former official in the extreme right-wing National Democratic Party, and Carsten S., were charged with aiding in the murders. Andre E. was charged with aiding the NSU's suspected bomb attack in Cologne and with being an accessory to attempted murder, while Holger G. was charged as an accomplice in three other crimes. The German legal system generally withholds the last names of suspects to protect their privacy. Zschäpe and the four others are in pre-trial custody.
Range said Zschäpe and the NSU's two deceased members, Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Böhnhardt, made up a "unified killing commando" in which all three members were on the same level. He added that there was no evidence the NSU had connections to other terrorist groups, and that authorities were investigating eight other individuals for helping the cell.
Thousands of Pages of Investigation Files
German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich praised the work of law enforcement and intelligence officials, who he said have analyzed more than 6,800 pieces of evidence in some 28,000 pages of investigation files. "The charges have been filed, and I think you can see that the resolution is continuing," Friedrich said in Berlin.
The announcement of the charges against Zschäpe, 37, came exactly one year after she turned herself into police. Days prior, authorities had uncovered the NSU trio by chance following a failed bank robbery and the apparent suicide of the two other members. Before turning herself in, Zschäpe allegedly burned the apartment the three had been using as a base in the eastern town of Zwickau.
Nine of the murder victims had immigration backgrounds, while the 10th was a German policewoman. Half of the murders were committed in Bavaria -- three in Nuremburg and two in Munich -- a potential reason for the trial's location.
Weaknesses Exposed in Domestic Security System
Since the NSU's discovery, Germany's national security apparatus has come under intense scrutiny for its failure to connect the crimes and apprehend the suspects. Numerous instances of missteps and intelligence failures have come to light, including periods of time when the suspects were under surveillance by the authorities but were eventually ignored.
A parliamentary committee has been tasked with investigating the failures of the national security system. Parallel investigations are taking place in the states of Thuringia, Saxony and Bavaria.
In June it was discovered that intelligence files on right-wing extremists had been destroyed the same month the NSU was discovered on the orders of an official in the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Germany's domestic intelligence agency. Heinz Fromm, the agency's then-president, resigned less than a week later, followed by his state-level counterparts Reinhard Boos in Saxony, Volker Limburg in Saxony-Anhalt and Thomas Sippel in Thuringia.
Primary among the intelligence community's missteps, a former official in the Military Counterintelligence Service (MAD) confirmed to the investigative parliamentary committee that one of the NSU members, Uwe Mundlos, was tested as a potential paid informant in 1995.
Green Party Chairwoman Claudia Roth said in light its intelligence failures, MAD should be abolished.
"After the elimination of conscription, MAD has no distinct, original responsibilites or tasks anymore," she told the DAPD news agency.