'Shameful' Crime German Officials Under Fire in Neo-Nazi Terror Case

A group of at least three neo-Nazis killed eight Turkish immigrants, one Greek man and a policewoman in a murder spree that stretches back 11 years -- and went undetected until now. The case has shocked the nation and triggered accusations that authorities underestimated the threat of far-right violence for years.

Uwe Böhnhardt (left) and Uwe Mundlos (right), two members of the neo-Nazi cell, were found dead last week. They are believed to have committed suicide.
dapd/ Ostthueringer Zeitung

Uwe Böhnhardt (left) and Uwe Mundlos (right), two members of the neo-Nazi cell, were found dead last week. They are believed to have committed suicide.

German security authorities face growing accusations that they underestimated the threat of far-right violence for decades following the discovery of a neo-Nazi cell believed to have murdered nine immigrants and one policewoman since 2000.

The trio of right-wing extremists, two men and a woman, are accused of committing a spate of murders that has baffled police for over a decade: the shooting of eight Turkish men and one Greek man, who had all run small businesses or fast-food stands, between 2000 and 2006. It became known as the "Doner Killings," a reference to the popular Turkish fastfood sandwiches known as Döner Kebabs. The gang, evidently consumed by hatred of foreigners, shot their victims in the face.

Two of the alleged killers, Uwe Böhnhardt (34) and Uwe Mundlos (38), were found dead after apparently committing suicide in a mobile home in the eastern town of Eisenach last week following a botched bank robbery.

The woman, Beate Zschäpe, turned herself in to police last week and has been taken into custody. Police arrested a suspected accomplice on Sunday.

Shortly after the discovery of Böhnhardt and Mundlos, investigators searched a burned-out house in Zwickau that had been used by them and Zschäpe. There they found the murder weapons from the "Doner Killings" and from the shooting of a policewoman in the southern city of Heilbronn in 2007.

Attackers Made DVD Bragging About Killings

Police also found a 15-minute film recorded on DVDs ready to be sent to Islamic cultural organizations and the media. SPIEGEL has seen the DVD and printed stills from the film showing the murder victims' bodies and grotesque montages using the cartoon figure of the Pink Panther to point out the scenes of the killings.

"Germany Tour -- Nine Turks shot" said a placard in one cartoon scene. In the DVD, the group calls itself "Nationalsozialistischer Untergrund" (or National Socialist Underground -- NSU). They are also suspected of having committed 14 bank robberies.

Now Germany is asking itself how and why authorities failed to detect the emergence of what is being called a right-wing terrorism network.

The case has led to criticism of Germany's domestic intelligence agency, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution. The office's regional department for the eastern state of Thuringia in particular faces questions, because the trio was known to the agency in the 1990s due to their links with the far-right group "Thüringer Heimatschutz" (Thuringia Homeland Protection). However, they drifted off the radar of intelligence authorities.

Rumors of Links With Intelligence Authority

It remains a mystery how the trio could remain undetected for so long. There are rumors that Zschäpe or her accomplices may have been informants for the Thuringia regional intelligence department. The department has denied the speculation.

"It is extremely disconcerting that no connection was seen between the series of murders across the whole of Germany and the right-extremist scene in Thuringia," said German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich in an interview with the mass-circulation daily Bild, published on Monday. "Without question, this is a new dimension of right wing-extremist violence."

"It is shameful that something like this happened in our country," Chancellor Angela Merkel added. "We will investigate it thoroughly. We owe that to the people who lost their lives."

Thomas Oppermann, a member of the opposition center-left Social Democrats, called for an investigation into whether police and security officials at regional and national level made mistakes. "One can't help getting the terrible impression that the danger of right-wing extremist violence wasn't taken seriously enough," he told Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.

The co-leader of the Greens Party, Cem Özdemir, told Welt am Sonntag newspaper on Sunday: "How could the suspects spend years murdering people due to right-wing extremist motives without the police and domestic intelligence service having even the slightest inkling of it?"

Call for Ban of Far-Right NPD

The case has led to renewed calls for a ban of the far-right National Democratic Party, accused by security authorities of being racist and revisionist. Senior members of the NPD are on record for glorifying the Third Reich.

The chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, Aiman Mazyek, said right-wing terrorism in Germany had been "chronically underestimated" for at least 20 years. "This year alone there have been at least 20 attacks on mosques, Muslim community buildings and the homes of immigrants," Mazyek told Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung newspaper.

The interior minister of the state of Bavaria, Joachim Herrmann, said the killings were a "new dimension of far-right violence in our country" and said he was in favor of a fresh bid to outlaw the party after an earlier attempt failed in 2003 due to the presence of police informants in the ranks of the NPD.

The Federal Constitutional Court rejected the ban because important witnesses for the prosecution -- including the NPD chief for the state of North Rhine-Westphalia -- worked as informants for the Office for the Protection of the Constitution. The court decided that it couldn't ban a party whose policies may have been shaped in part by government agents

'Disgusting Right-Wing Terrorism'

The president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Dieter Graumann, said he was "totally shocked" by the crimes. "If the suspicions are confirmed, we're confronted with a disgusting right-wing terrorism that appears to have been able to spend years murdering people it did not deem worthy of life," Graumann told Handelsblatt Online. "We need a resolute campaign against the far-right," said Graumann, adding that the party must be banned.

However, the chairman of the parliament's domestic affairs committee, Wolfgang Bosbach, a member of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, warned against a new attempt to outlaw the NPD because that would require the withdrawal of all informants for the period of the legal process.

That would pose dangers because the security authorities would no longer be able to monitor the activities of the party, said Bosbach.

cro -- with wire reports


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