At the close of a four-year case, the prime suspect in a neo-Nazi ring accused of murdering ten people, including eight Turkish immigrants, continues to deny her role in the killings. Beate Zschaepe is charged with being a “co-founder, member and accomplice” of the National Socialist Underground (NSU), a terrorist organisation which targeted immigrants and committed other violent crimes.
Zschaepe is currently being tried at Munich’s Higher Regional Court. Her case, which started in May 2013, has entered its final week with lawyers making their closing statements. The federal prosecutor has demanded “life imprisonment” and “subsequent preventive detention” for her alleged central role in the NSU, and the murder of eight Turkish and one Greek immigrant, and a female police officer between 2000 and 2007.
The 42-year-old, who has a long history of right-wing extremism, was arrested in 2011 when German police stumbled upon evidence by chance as they pursued two bank robbers in the East German town of Eisenach. Apprehending the robbers’ getaway vehicle, the police found two dead bodies inside: Zschaepe’s partners Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Bohnhardt, who died in a suspected murder-suicide following their bungled robbery.
At around the same time an explosion was reported at a house 110 miles east in the Saxon town of Zwickau. When emergency services entered the badly damaged building, they discovered guns and NSU propaganda, allowing them to piece together details about the property’s residents Zschaepe, Mundlos and Bohnhardt, and the unsolved murders.
For years, German police believed the nine immigrants were victims of Turkish gang warfare, killed by foreign-born mafia over drug-trafficking. The authorities were so adamant of their theory that they even codenamed their investigation ‘Operation Bosphorus’, which in turn prompted the German media to call the suspects the ‘Döner Killers’.
Relatives of the deceased had insisted otherwise, maintaining their loved ones were murdered by racists and not the mafia. Their pleas for the police to refocus their lines of enquiry on far-right groups instead fell on deaf ears until the DVDs were found in the burnt-out property in Zwickau in 2011.
The DVD footage documents the murders, mapping where each one took place, along with gruesome photographs of the freshly-killed corpses. The discovery caused an outcry in Germany and anger at the huge failure of the country’s intelligence forces, who claimed they had lost track of the movements of known Zschaepe, Mundlos and Bohnhardt – all three known extremists – when they went on the run in 1998.
Driven by a neo-Nazi ideology, the trio are believed to have formed the NSU together and launched a campaign to kill immigrants. The authorities have assembled sufficient evidence to believe NSU were behind the murders of all nine immigrants and a policewoman, as well as two nailbomb attacks in immigrant areas of Cologne and 15 bank robberies during a crime spree that lasted well over a decade.
Zschaepe maintains her innocence, claiming she was not a member of NSU, nor responsible for the murders, blaming them entirely on her two dead friends. In 2015, she said in a written statement that she felt “morally guilty” for not stopping her friends.
Federal prosecutor Herbert Diemer asserts “The accused is criminally fully responsible for her behaviour.” He described Zschaepe as an “ice-cold, calculating person”, and is seeking a life sentence for the ten murders. The judges’ verdict is not expected for several months.
Main photo: Beate Zschaepe enters Higher Regional Court in Munich, Germany, 20 June 2013, to stand trial for ten murders and terror attacks as part of the “National Socialist Underground” terror cell. (NSU). EPA / ANDREAS GEBERT