Defendant denies role in German neo-Nazi killing spree
The main defendant in a German neo-Nazi terrorism and murder trial denied Wednesday she was involved in a killing spree targeting migrants that claimed 10 lives and apologised to the bereaved families.
Beate Zschaepe, 40, breaking her silence after some 250 days in the dock, described herself in a statement as a passive, innocent and horrified bystander to the crimes of the self-styled National Socialist Underground (NSU).
Zschaepe for years lived in hiding with neo-Nazis Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Boehnhardt, who shot dead eight men with Turkish roots, a Greek migrant and a German policewoman between 2000 and 2007, before they died in an apparent murder-suicide in 2011.
After the men's deaths, Germany was shocked to discover that the killings -- long blamed by police and media on migrant crime gangs and dubbed the "doner (kebab) murders" -- were in fact committed by a far-right cell with xenophobic motives.
Prosecutors charge that Zschaepe was an NSU member and aided the crimes, also including two bomb attacks and 15 bank robberies, by covering the men's tracks, handling finances and providing a safe retreat in their shared home.
But Zschaepe, who faces a maximum sentence of life in jail, in a statement read out by one of her lawyers insisted she was involved "neither in the planning nor the execution" of any crimes, and that she was "horrified" to learn about them afterwards.
She said she did not share the men's racist motivation and told the court: "I reject the accusation of having been a member of a terrorist organisation called NSU".
- They were 'family' -
In her deposition, Zschaepe insisted she had stayed with the two men for years because she feared a jail term for complicity, and because she believed their promises not to kill again.
Zschaepe also argued she was financially and emotionally dependent on the men, who had threatened to kill themselves if she went to the police.
"I remember pleading with them for hours to stop the killings," she said in the 53-page statement read out by attorney Mathias Grasel.
"Mantra-like I received the answer that it wouldn't happen again. They didn't keep their word.
"I realised that I was living with two people who did not value human life," she added.
Yet, "the two were my family," she said about the men, describing her childhood with an alcoholic mother, and their shared teenage days in the neo-Nazi scene of their post-reunification east German home town.
Later she resigned herself to her fate, she claimed.
"I distracted myself with computer games and drank more and more sparkling wine, three or four bottles a day", she said, adding that she increasingly "neglected the cats".
- Intelligence failure -
The 2011 random discovery of the NSU deeply embarrassed German authorities, exposing police and domestic intelligence flaws and raising uncomfortable questions about how the cell went undetected for 13 years.
A parliamentary panel in 2013 harshly criticised the domestic security service for having "grossly trivialised" the threat of far-right extremist violence, and associating terrorism only with far-left or Islamist groups.
In the high-profile trial, Zschaepe, in the dock with four alleged NSU supporters, had stayed silent, but changed strategy after recently hiring new lawyers.
Having shown no obvious contrition over more than two years, she apologised Wednesday to the victims' relatives.
"I feel morally guilty that I could not prevent 10 murders and two bomb attacks," she said, while denying legal responsibility.
Zschaepe admitted only to an arson charge, having torched the trio's shared home after the men died, and of then distributing a DVD in which the group boasted about the killings in a video set to a comical Pink Panther theme.
Explaining her actions, Zschaepe insisted that "they made me promise them that, in case they died, I would destroy all evidence except for the DVD," and that she had decided "to fulfil their last wish".
© 2015 AFP