An alleged member of a German extreme-right wing group has gone on trial in Munich today over her links with a series of racially motivated murders.
The case of Beate Zschaepe is one of the country’s most eagerly anticipated in decades as it has also revealed serious intelligence failings.
The 38-year-old is thought to have been part of the “National Socialist Underground, a neo-Nazi gang which was only discovered in 2011 when its two founders committed suicide after a botched bank robbery.
Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Boehnhardt killed themselves in an apparent suicide pact and set their caravan ablaze in the eastern town of Eisenach. In the charred vehicle, police found the gun used to murder each victim – eight Turks, a Greek and a policewoman – all killed between 2000-2007.
They also found a grotesque DVD presenting the NSU and claiming responsibility for the killings. In it the bodies of the murder victims are pictured while a cartoon Pink Panther tots up the number of dead.
After her companions’ suicides, Zschaepe is believed to have set fire to a flat she shared with the men in Zwickau, 180 km away, and gone on the run. Four days later she turned herself in to police in her hometown of Jena, saying “I’m the one you are looking for.”
Prosecutors say the gang chose people running small businesses or shops as easy, vulnerable targets, in an attempt to terrify migrants and hound them out of Germany.
Some of the relatives even came under suspicion themselves because police simply did not consider a far-right motive.
The trio had been known to authorities during their teenage years in Jena, for their racist hate crimes and bomb making, but had managed to escape arrest and assume new identities.
Angelika Lex, a lawyer representing one of the victim’s family’s wants the secret service also to be also held to account: “The scandal in this process is the fact that there was a series of murders committed by the far right terrorists who murdered ten people over a decade,” she said.
“The intelligence services, who have many people and many spies working in this area were not able to contribute in any way to the success of the investigation of this series of crimes,” added Lex.
Zschaepe is also charged along with four others with assisting with two bombings in immigrant areas of Cologne and 15 bank robberies.
Germany’s patchwork of intelligence agencies are set to undergo reforms, after an inquiry found they failed to share information and neglected the far-right threat. The head of domestic intelligence resigned last July.