Germany has not seen a trial receive this much media attention in decades, not since the 1970s, with the left-wing militant group Red Army Faction. Germans want to know how today’s gang, the dangerous neo-Nazi National Socialist Underground, went undetected for more than a decade.
‘The Nazi girlfriend’ is one of the German media’s labels for the defendant. Her two male accomplices committed suicide.
Lawyers for one victim’s family said: “With its historical, social and political dimensions, the NSU trial is one of the most significant in post-war German history.”
The trio appeared to be a product of 1990s post-reunification unemployment drifting.
Beate Zschaepe is charged with complicity in the shooting of eight Turks – shopkeepers and small business owners – a Greek and a German policewoman in towns across Germany between 2000 and 2007, as well as two bombings in immigrant areas of Cologne and 15 bank robberies.
The attack in Cologne left ten people wounded in 2001 and 22 wounded in 2004. The police did not treat these as racist crimes.
They attributed them to Turkish organised crime. Politicians have accused the intelligence agencies of being “blind in the right eye” and of focusing so much on Islamist groups that they overlooked the threat from the far right.
The head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency resigned last year after it emerged that files documenting the use of informers in the far right had been destroyed after the discovery of the NSU.
The German parliament is conducting an inquiry into how the security services failed for so long to link the murders or share information, despite having informers close to the group. As teenagers, the trio were known to authorities to be involved in racist hate crimes and bomb making, but they escaped arrest.
An anti-extreme right activist, Janine Patz, said: “Say good-bye to the idea that it was only three or four people. The right-wing organisation NSU is where all other right-wing organisations in Thuringia originated, even organisations that still exist today, also on party levels.”
The case shows how deep the roots of xenophobia run. A recent study found that extreme right ideas found takers among some 16 percent of people in eastern Germany, seven in western Germany. In 2011, there were estimated to have been more than 23,000 neo-Nazis, 10,000 of them considered dangerous.