Inside the neo-Nazi cell behind Germany's 'kebab murders'
The neo-Nazi militants behind a string of racist murders that had stumped investigators for a decade were part of a macabre love triangle that relied on bank robberies to pay the rent.
The revelation that Germany was home to a lethal "National Socialist Underground" with three members -- two men and a woman -- at its core shocked a country in which the far-right is largely fragmented and marginalised.
The trio are implicated in the murders of 10 people -- nine shopkeepers mainly of Turkish origin and a German policewoman -- between 2000 and 2007 and suspected of involvement in a series of other xenophobic attacks.
Since 36-year-old Beate Zschaepe turned herself in to authorities last week, investigators have begun to paint a clearer picture of her and her two lovers, who committed suicide this month.
Out-takes from a 15-minute DVD made by the two blond skinheads, 38-year-old Uwe Mundlos and 34-year-old Uwe Boehnhardt, show them bragging about the killings, using the Pink Panther as a bizarre mascot.
In the chilling propaganda video, the cartoon figure is shown standing next to a sign reading "Germany Tour: Ninth Turk Shot Dead".
In other frames, one victim, still alive but apparently with a gun to his head, is seen wide-eyed with horror before he is shot.
The National Socialist Underground describes itself in the brief manifesto as "a network of comrades with the maxim 'actions instead of words'.
"As long as no fundamental changes are undertaken in politics, the press and for freedom of speech, the activities will continue," it says in white letters on a black background.
Authorities said Monday that scenes in the video led them to re-open the probe into a 2001 bombing in the western city of Cologne in which a German-Iranian woman was seriously injured.
The daily Bild said that Zschaepe, Boehnhardt and Mundlos were a tightly knit trio who robbed 14 banks over several years and lived off the proceeds while they plotted a nationwide hunt for immigrant victims.
They met in the neo-Nazi scene in the eastern city of Jena in the late 1990s and liked to play a far-right version of the board game Monopoly in which they renamed the jail "concentration camp".
The three eventually moved in together, with two cats, in a rented apartment in a pretty pre-war building in the town of Zwickau as Zschaepe oscillated between the two men.
Auburn-haired with a small blue-tinted pair of eyeglasses, Zschaepe was a trained gardener and reportedly an object of desire for many in the local neo-Nazi scene.
Bild described Mundlos, the son of a university professor, as the "brains" of the cell with a soft side, often seen taking care of his wheelchair-bound brother.
But he had a portrait of Adolf Hitler's deputy Rudolf Hess hanging in his room that he drew himself and in his spare time he occasionally attended the trials of Holocaust deniers.
Boehnhardt was a more volatile type with a weakness for weapons. He liked to carry a dagger with him and friends told Bild he gave the straight-armed Hitler salute at every opportunity.
The three started off building bombs and were caught by police in 1998 but the police let Zschaepe go and the two men vanished before they could be questioned.
Two years later, the shootings began, with the targets mainly Turkish snack shop owners, leading the media to call them the "kebab murders".
Police long suspected perpetrators from the Turkish underworld, possibly revenge killings in a gangland dispute, but could find no links between the victims, who were spread across the country.
It was only this month when evidence piled up against the Zwickau trio that Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich spoke of "a new dimension of far-right violence".
© 2011 AFP