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German neo-Nazi Beate Zschäpe gets life for NSU murders

Zschäpe is found guilty of killing 10 people, being member of far-right group and bomb attacks

A German court has found the main defendant in a high-profile neo-Nazi trial guilty of killing 10 people – most of them migrants – who were gunned down between 2000 and 2007 in a case that has shocked Germany and prompted accusations of institutional racism in the country’s security agencies.

The judges sentenced Beate Zschäpe to life in prison for murder, membership of a terrorist organisation, bomb attacks that injured dozens, and several lesser crimes including a string of robberies. Four men were found guilty of supporting the group in various ways and sentenced to prison terms of between two and a half to 10 years.

The presiding judge, Manfred Götzl, told a packed Munich courtroom that Zschäpe’s guilt weighed particularly heavily, meaning she is likely to serve at least a 15-year sentence.

The 43-year-old showed no emotion as Götzl read out her sentence. A number of far-right activists attending the trial clapped when one of the co-accused, André Eminger, received a lower sentence than expected.

Zschäpe was arrested in 2011, shortly after her two accomplices, Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Böhnhardt, were found dead in an apparent murder-suicide. Together with the two men she had formed the National Socialist Underground (NSU), a group that pursued an ideology of white racial supremacy by targeting migrants, mostly of Turkish origin.

The NSU evaded arrest for almost 14 years, thanks to a network of supporters and repeated mistakes by German security agencies.

Anti-migrant sentiment that underpinned the group’s ideology was particularly strong in eastern Germany during the early 1990s, when Mundlos, Böhnhardt and Zschäpe were in their late teens and early 20s. The period saw a string of attacks against migrants and the rise of far-right parties.

Anti-racism campaigners have drawn parallels between that period and the violence directed toward asylum-seekers in Germany in recent years, which has seen the emergence of the far-right Alternative for Germany party.

The case against Zschäpe hinged heavily on the question of whether judges would hold her equally culpable for the killings as her two dead accomplices, even though there was no evidence she had been physically present during the attacks.

Her lawyers sought to portray Zschäpe as a naive woman who played no active role in the killings, bomb attacks and bank robberies committed by Mundlos and Böhnhardt. Zschäpe rarely spoke during the five-year trial, refusing to answer questions from lawyers representing the victims’ families. Toward the end, she expressed regret for the families’ loss and described herself as “morally guilty” but urged the court not to convict her “for something that I neither wanted nor did”.

The NSU case has already become a firm part of German popular culture, serving as the basis for books, a Golden Globe-winning film, and a Netflix series NSU German History X.

Still, Barbara John, the government’s ombudswoman for the victims’ families, said many in Germany don’t want to know the details of the case. “That’s true, too, for immigrants who want to protect themselves psychologically from the knowledge that they live in a country which couldn’t protect them,” she told the Associated Press.

Speaking ahead of the verdict, John said the trial could help send a signal not just to far-right extremists but also to the country’s security agencies, which for years failed to consider a possible far-right motive in the 10 killings and two bomb attacks that took place across the country. Instead, police focused on whether the victims had ties to organised crime a line of investigation for which there was never any evidence.

Families of the victims said on Tuesday that the suspicion directed toward their loved-ones shook their faith in the German justice system. “The investigation went in the wrong direction, not due to the failure of individuals but due to institutional racism,” said Alexander Hoffmann, a lawyer representing victims of a 2004 bomb attack in Cologne.

He urged federal prosecutors to continue investigating the NSU’s wider network of supporters, believed to be much broader than the four men on trial with Zschäpe.

John said there were encouraging signs that police and intelligence agencies were beginning to listen to minorities and make an effort to recruit them, ending the long-maintained illusion that Germany was not a country of immigrants.

“One big question remains: do we in Germany really want to know why and how the NSU murders occurred?” John said. “If that were the case, the work of politicians and civil society needs to continue.”

Source: The Guardian

German authorities' many failures in investigating the NSU

After five years, the verdicts in the trials of members of the National Socialist Underground are due to be handed down. German Chancellor Angela Merkel's promised clarification efforts have not become reality.

The first victim of the serial murders died on September 11, 2000, the last on April 6, 2006. Eight of the victims were men of Turkish heritage; one was from Greece. They were all shot with the same gun. The investigators initially assumed, without evidence, that the killings must have involved drugs — sometimes they even accused relatives of taking part in the murders. Racism was quickly ruled out as motive.

When police officer Michele Kiesewetter was shot in Heilbronn on April 25, 2007, in the southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg, no connection to the other murders was made. It wasn't until four and a half years later that police pieced the events together, almost accidently — and following yet another crime.

The bodies of Uwe Böhnhardt and Uwe Mundlos were found in a burned-out motorhome after a failed bank robbery in Eisenach on November 4, 2011. They had apparently taken their lives to escape arrest. The fact that the men were members of a right-wing group called the National Socialist Underground (NSU), and were behind the serial murders became known after a video was sent to several media outlets a short time later. Multiple pieces of evidence were discovered by police in the rubble of a residential building in Zwickau that had exploded on the day of the robbery. The detonation was presumably triggered by Beate Zschäpe, who had joined up with Böhnhardt and Mundlos in January 1998. Zschäpe turned herself in to police on November 8, 2011.

In addition to the 10 murders already blamed on the NSU, prosecutors would eventually charge the group with two bomb attacks in Cologne that left more than 20 people injured and 15 robberies.

Not 'doing everything'

Zschäpe and four NSU supporters went on trial for the crimes in Munich's higher regional court on May 6, 2013. Prosecutors have demanded a life sentence for Zschäpe and prison terms of three to 12 years for the four people accused of being accessories.

An early release would be ruled out should presiding judge Manfred Götzl's tribunal sentence Zschäpe to life. But, whatever sentence is imposed, survivors and relatives of the victims have already delivered their verdict on German authorities' investigation of the NSU's crimes.

"We are doing everything to solve the murders, uncover the accomplices and individuals behind these crimes, and bring all perpetrators to justice," Chancellor Angela Merkel said on February 23, 2012, at a ceremony to commemorate the people hurt and killed by the NSU.

However, with the trial finally coming to a close over six years later, many questions remain unanswered, said Antonia von der Behrens, a Berlin lawyer representing one of Mehmet Kubasik's sons. Her client will likely never find out why his father was murdered in Dortmund in 2006. Victims' families believe that Zschäpe could shed light on why their relatives were targeted. But she claims to always have heard about the murders only after the fact — an assertion that von der Behrens does not buy.

Lawyers, activists and relatives believe that the NSU had far more accomplices than are being tried in Munich. For many years, Germany's domestic intelligence agency, the BfV, had placed numerous informants at events where NSU members or their supporters were present. However, by official request, the informants have only been allowed to give limited testimony — or none at all — as witnesses in the trial. The same has applied to agents of the BfV.

In December, von der Behrens said the BfV and the equivalent local-level agencies in relevant states "have systematically thwarted and made impossible the investigation of the 10 murders, 43 attempted murders and 15 robberies."

Investigative shortcomings

Even after several parliamentary committees of inquiry, many questions about the NSU remain unanswered. Clemens Binninger was a member of one Bundestag committee of inquiry. He also doubts the theory that only three people — Zschäpe, Böhnhardt and Mundlos — belonged to the terror group.

"Within the trio, did the two men commit all these crimes alone, without leaving a trace anywhere?" asked Binninger, who has since resigned from the Bundestag.

A former police officer, Binninger wonders what the NSU's "determining impulse" was when selecting victims and locations. The murders were carried out across Germany: Rostock and Hamburg in the north, Dortmund in the west, Kassel in the center and Nuremberg, Munich and Heilbronn in the south.

Survivors and the relatives of the people killed are disillusioned, von der Behrens said. She also said that police allegations that the victims or their families had been involved in drug trafficking or gang crime amount to institutional racism, especially considering the lack of political will to clarify the extent of the BfV's own role in the NSU's killings.

With her promise of a relentless official effort to solve the crimes six years ago, Chancellor Merkel had raised the hopes of survivors and the relatives of the people killed. However, the state's failures have had few repercussions. Heinz Fromm, then the president of the BfV, voluntarily resigned in 2012 after it became known that files related to the NSU had been destroyed shortly after the group's existence became public. Any remaining BfV files on the NSU have been redacted or remain under lock and key. Some others were destroyed, even after the investigation had begun.

Source: Deutsche Welle

If you want to know more about the case:

NSU Watch: The NSU Case in Germany - as of July 3rd, 2018
Wikipedia: National Socialist Underground murders
The Local: Are Germany's spy agencies partly culpable for the NSU's murder spree?

Tags: crime, evil, germany, nazism

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