Germany: Failures gave neo-Nazi killers free rein

Beate Zschaepe: standing trial over murder of nine immigrants. Picture: AP
Beate Zschaepe: standing trial over murder of nine immigrants. Picture: AP
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A REPORT into a militant right-wing terror cell whose members murdered nine immigrant businessmen and a police­woman has highlighted “unimaginable failures” among Germany’s security forces.

The investigation into the National Socialist Underground cell was carried out by a German parliamentary team over 19 months to find out why the cell, consisting of just two men and one woman, were able to operate for more than ten years without being caught.

The report achieved a consensus among all political parties – the first ever in the postwar republic. The 1,000-page publication speaks of “unimaginable failures … failures and misjudgments of the law enforcement and security authorities”. It said “never again” should the risk of far-right terrorism be so “grossly trivialised” by state forces.

The NSU carried out the murders without publicity, believing the fear generated would force Turks and other immigrants to quit Germany. The policewoman died when she stopped their car for a routine check.

As well as the assassinations, the trio carried out two bombings and 15 robberies between 1998 and 2011 but things fell apart after a failed bank raid which ended with the male members killing themselves. The female, Beate Zschaepe, torched their hideout in Zwickau before giving herself up to police. She and a handful of NSU helpers are now standing trial in Munich.

The harsh language reserved for the police will, hope MPs, restore faith in German justice which was tarnished over the investigations into the NSU murders. The chairman of the Bundestag committee that compiled the report, Sebastian Edathy, said; “We have come to the conclusion that what we are dealing with here is a massive failure of the authorities, caused by a drastic underestimation of the danger posed by the extreme Right in Germany, who are prepared to resort to violence.”

At the same time, the Social Democrat MP rejected the suggestion that the authorities had deliberately ignored indications that racism was a motive behind the murders, or that a conspiracy was present. Bungling, he said, was the root cause of why the gang went free for so long.

“We found no indication the authorities knew who was behind the crimes, or that they looked the other way or supported the perpetrators,” he said.

“A key lesson is that German police must employ more officers with migrant backgrounds and that the force be better sensitised to intercultural issues,” he added.

“I’m pretty sure that, if a leading police investigator had had a Turkish background, investigating authorities would not have taken six years before seriously considering the possibility that racism was the motive.”

The report said there had been “major failures and organisational flaws” especially in intelligence-sharing, analysis, the choice of staff and priority setting, while the NSU committed its murders.

The report also criticised “excesses” in the use of supergrasses, including violent leading neo-Nazis who fed the money they received from the state back into their organisations.

Foreign minister Guido Westerwelle welcomed the release of the report – the product of a 19-month probe with more than 100 witnesses – speaking during a visit by his Turkish counterpart, Ahmet Davutoglu.

“It is not only an important step to bring clarity here in Germany, but also an important signal to the world so we can regain trust,” he said. “It is important for the image of Germany in the world. Terrorism and extremism have no place in Germany.”