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Revelations on neo-Nazi group shock Germany

The National Socialist Underground's existence and alleged killings of at least 10 people are brought to German authorities' attention after the apparent suicides, surrender and arrest of members.

November 15, 2011|Aaron Wiener | Wiener is a special correspondent
  • Footage from a surveillance camera shows a bank robbery in progress in Arnstadt, Germany, on Sept. 7 in which members of the National Socialist Underground are suspected of involvement.
Footage from a surveillance camera shows a bank robbery in progress in Arnstadt,… (Reuters )

BERLIN — Germany's intelligence service came under sharp criticism Monday after revelations that a neo-Nazi terrorist group had been operating in the country virtually undetected for more than a decade and allegedly killed at least 10 people, most of them Turkish immigrants.

Authorities say a group calling itself the National Socialist Underground was responsible for the slayings of eight people of Turkish origin, a Greek and a policewoman, some of whom were shot in the face at point-blank range. The group is also suspected of involvement in more than a dozen bank robberies and a bombing.

The shocking details came to light after two members were found dead in an apparent suicide and a third turned herself in to police last week. Authorities arrested a fourth suspect Sunday.

"Right-wing terror is a disgrace for Germany," Chancellor Angela Merkel said Monday at an assembly of her Christian Democratic Party in Leipzig. "We have to do everything we can to get to the bottom of this."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday, November 19, 2011 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 43 words Type of Material: Correction
Neo-Nazi group: An article in the Nov. 15 Section A about a neo-Nazi terrorist group believed to have killed at least 10 people said that a suspect arrested Sunday had been identified by authorities as Holger Z. It should have said Holger G.

The revelations led politicians and national security experts to question the effectiveness of the country's intelligence service.

"It is very disturbing that no connection was made between the serial murders throughout Germany and the right-wing extremist scene in Thuringia," the eastern German state where the terrorist group was based, Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich told the daily newspaper Bild.

"This is a kind of wake-up call," said Robert Philippsberg, a political scientist at Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich, whose work focuses on right-wing extremism. "The intelligence service and the Interior Ministry need to ask themselves some questions."

The slayings, dubbed the "doner killings" because some of the victims operated stands selling sandwiches known as doner kebabs, took place throughout the country between 2000 and 2006.

The killings baffled authorities until one of the suspects, Beate Zschaepe, turned herself in last week; her motives for doing so are unclear.

The two other known members, Uwe Boehnhardt and Uwe Mundlos, were found dead in a mobile home in the town of Eisenach on Nov. 4.

The member of the group arrested Sunday, identified by authorities only as Holger Z., appeared before a judge Monday and was detained as a suspected accomplice in the killings.

A spokesman for the federal prosecutor's office said there were no other suspects at this time.

Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann called for Germany to once again consider banning the far-right National Democratic Party, or NPD, which has no members in the federal Parliament but enjoys modest success in the country's eastern states, where the National Socialist Underground was based. An attempt to ban the party failed in 2003 after it was revealed that several high-ranking NPD officials were informants for the German intelligence service.

Reports suggested that one or more members of the National Socialist Underground may also have been state informants, but Friedrich told Bild there was no evidence of that. Still, opposition lawmakers called for a hearing on the matter.

German media have dubbed the National Socialist Underground the "Brown Army Faction," a twist on the militant left-wing Red Army Faction that killed more than 30 people throughout the 1970s, '80s and '90s.

Philippsberg said it was too early to place this right-wing violence in the same category as its left-wing predecessor.

"The Red Army Faction operated over three generations; the Brown Army Faction had just a few members," he said. "It's not really a valid comparison."

But in a country whose Nazi past still casts a shadow, the revelations of a neo-Nazi terrorist cell operating unnoticed for more than a decade came as a shock.

Consternation was particularly acute in the eastern town of Zwickau, where several of the suspects lived before blowing up their apartment Nov. 4 in an apparent attempt to destroy evidence of their crimes.

Mathias Merz, a spokesman for the mayor's office in Zwickau, said residents were alarmed to find their town at the center of a terrorist operation.

"People felt, to use a German expression, that they were in the wrong film," he said.

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