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.