German security services under fire over neo-Nazi murders

22nd August 2013, Comments 0 comments

A neo-Nazi murder spree targeting mostly Turkish migrants in Germany went unsolved for years largely because of institutional bias among police and security services, a parliamentary panel found Thursday.

Its chairman Sebastian Edathy labelled as "shameful" the investigative failures, bad communication and prejudice that allowed the so-called National Socialist Underground (NSU) to murder 10 people over seven years without being caught.

The whole case had been "a historically unprecedented disaster", he said.

The NSU is now considered to have been a terrorist cell. Its surviving female member Beate Zschaepe is on trial, accused of lending vital support to the group's two gunmen who died in an apparent murder-suicide in late 2011.

Until then, police and the media had dubbed the nationwide series of assassination-style shootings, committed with the same Ceska handgun, the "doner (kebab) murders", suspecting that Turkish crime groups were to blame.

German police and domestic intelligence services have since faced withering criticism for ingrained bias by associating terrorism only with far-left or Islamist groups, not neo-Nazis.

The case that shocked Germany has been studied for 19 months by an inter-party panel that, after questioning around 100 witnesses, on Thursday presented their more than 1,000-page report, arriving at unanimous conclusions.

Its members labelled the NSU case "a humiliating defeat for the German security and investigative agencies" and pointed to "massive institutional failures that resulted from a dramatic underestimation of the danger of the violent far-right".

While cooperation and communication between Germany's 36 state and federal security services had been lacking, another cause was racial prejudice within them, the chairman told a press conference.

"Turks murder Turks -- that seemed to be the thinking," he said.

"That is what worries me most, because changing this will take us longer than amending laws ... We are not just dealing with structural problems but, in some offices, with problems of mentality."

A key lesson was that German police must employ more officers with migrant backgrounds and that the force be better sensitised to intercultural issues, while murder probes should always consider political or religious motives, the report said.

"I'm pretty sure that, if a leading police investigator had had a Turkish background, investigating authorities would not have taken six years before seriously considering the possibility that racism was the motive," Edathy said earlier.

Especially the domestic security service, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, came in for harsh criticism for having "grossly trivialised" the threat of far-right extremist violence.

The Social Democrats' panel member Eva Hoegl said the service, which had later shredded files linked to the case, must now face greater public and parliamentary scrutiny and be "dragged out of its grey, dark corner".

The report harshly criticised "excesses" in the use of paid undercover informants, including violent leading neo-Nazis who fed the money they received from the state back into their organisations.

But despite all the mistakes, the panel ruled out that state security services themselves were involved in the NSU activities, or had tolerated or supported them.

It also found no evidence that the three NSU members, or any close supporters such as the four co-accused in the Zschaepe trial, had ever worked as paid informants.

The members of the inter-party panel stressed that they had jointly signed off on the report and had stayed above political point-scoring ahead of September 22 elections, given the seriousness of the issue.

Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle welcomed the release of the report, speaking during a visit by his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu.

"It is not only an important step to bring clarity here in Germany, but also an important signal to the world so we can regain trust," he said. "It is important for the image of Germany in the world. Terrorism and extremism have no place in Germany."

called for the establishment of an anti-racism officer who would submit annual reports to parliament and warned: "Racism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are still woefully trivialised and belittled in our country."

© 2013 AFP

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