Media criticize German counter-intelligence for lax investigation of neo-Nazi terrorist group
The German counter-intelligence service is facing growing pressure over unclear aspects of its role in the case of the immigrant murders committed by a group of neo-Nazis, crimes that are now being called ultra-right terrorism. The press is indicating that there may even have been a link between the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution and what is being called a terrorist cell in Zwickau responsible for at least 10 murders in recent years, as well as bank heists and perhaps even an explosion in Cologne.
German politicians are primarily demanding an explanation from the domestic intelligence services as to why it lost sight of the group, which calls itself the National Socialist Underground. The secret service had followed the activities of Uwe Mundlos, Uwe Böhnhardt and Beata Zschäpe in the 1990s when they were active in the Thuringian town of Jena. In 1998, however, the secret service lost track of them. The trio moved just a few dozen kilometers east to the Saxon town of Zwickau, from where they began to organize their operations.
The National Socialist Underground trio may also have planned attacks on German politicians. News server Spiegel Online reports that a list of 88 names discovered by investigators seems to indicate such plans. In addition to representatives of Islamic and Turkish organizations, the list includes at least two German MPs. The counter-intelligence services in Lower Saxony, moreover, have admitted to having made serious mistakes in their surveillance of a person suspected of assisting the group.
The list dates from 2005. The three perpetrators noted not only people's names but also their addresses, including influential German MPs like Hens-Peter Uhl of the Christian Social Union of Bavaria (CSU) and Jerzy Montag of the Greens. For the time being, detectives are unable to guess precisely what purpose the list served. Two other neo-Nazis are allegedly assisting with deciphering its purpose.
Between 2000 and 2006, at least nine small business owners, primarily of Turkish origin, were shot to death in locations throughout Germany. The media gave the nickname of the "döner murders" to the crime spree. The trio's last known victim was a young female police officer shot to death in 2007 near Heilbronn.
"It is disturbing that the connection between this series of murders throughout Germany and the ultra-right scene in Thuringia was not recognized," German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said. He has called for an accelerated investigation into whether the murders were not the work of a more diversified neo-Nazi network and whether such a network had contacts at the Federal Office for the Protection of the Consitution as the media have indicated.
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) has pointed out that during the shooting of a Turkish businessperson in the town of Kassel in 2006, a member of the secret service operating among the neo-Nazis was most probably at the secene of the crime. According to the original reporting on the story, the man left the internet cafe concerned shortly before the murder was committed, but FAZ reports he was still in security circles at the time of the murder. Weapons and neo-Nazi materials were later found in his home. The public servant was investigated at the time, but proceedings against him were halted for lack of evidence. He subsequently left the secret service.
Last week the German daily Bild reported that in the house in Zwickau where the trio lived (which Beata Zschäpe attempted to blow up after they were discovered) detectives found identity cards that only counter-intelligence servants are permitted to hold. Thomas Oppermann, head of the German Bundestag's oversight committee on the secret service, has announced that the procedures of the domestic intelligence services in Hesse and Thuringia will be investigated in detail. He and other politicians have also said they are in favor of ending the practice of using paid informers inside neo-Nazi organizations.
In the meantime, German Police have started researching old, unsolved cases which could be linked to the activities of the group. Members of the group, according to the most recent findings, probably perpetrated the explosions in 2004 in the Turkish quarter of Cologne durig which 22 people were injured. They evidently also planned other attacks on immigrant centers.
Specific errors committed by the German authorities in this case are gradually coming to light. The Lower Saxony Office for the Protection of the Constitution, the counter-intelligence services in that particular state, has admitted that in 1999 it was following a certain Holger G. on suspicion of supporting terrorists. However, the data discovered regarding him were never archived and detectives did not draw attention to him. Holger G. is now in custody. Investigators say he rented two recreational vehicles which the perpetrators of the murders used. He also let them use his identification.
In connection with this case, German Police are asking for a ban on the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD). That call was approved by the strongest governing party, German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, at a party congress in Leipzig. The German Government tried to dissolve the NPD a few years ago, but the Constitutional Court blocked the effort in 2003.
Of this group of alleged "brown-shirt terrorists", only Zschäpe remains alive. Last week she turned herself in to authorities, but she is not cooperating with investigators. Her accomplices committed suicide when they realized they were at risk of arrest. Detectives are now investigating the possibility that another man with contacts to the neo-Nazi scene was a co-conspirator of the three. He allegedly rented the house in Zwickau for the trio.
On Friday, the German Interior Minister and German Justice Minister will hold an extraordinary meeting with their state-level colleagues and representatives of the security services to discuss the case. Germany Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich has also announced his intention to create a central database of dangerous neo-Nazis.