Alleged sole survivor of German neo-Nazi terror cell facing trial verdict

A verdict is expected today in the marathon five-year trial of Beate Zschäpe, the alleged sole survivor of postwar Germany’s deadliest neo-Nazi terror cell.

Ms Zschäpe has been on trial since May 2013 over the murder of nine immigrants and a policewoman. She also faces charges of membership of a terrorist organisation.

Prosecutors allege the 43-year-old is the sole survivor of the National Socialist Underground (NSU), a far-Right terror cell responsible for a series of shootings and nail bombings that targeted immigrants across Germany between 2000 and 2007.

The two other members of the cell, Uwe Böhnhardt and Uwe Mundlos, are believed to have died in a suicide pact in 2011 to avoid arrest over a series of bank robberies.

The case is notorious in Germany for police and intelligence failures. Eight immigrants of Turkish heritage and one from Greece were shot dead with the same gun between 2000 and 2006, but police failed to realise they were dealing with a home-grown terror cell for more than a decade.

Instead they believed it was the work of immigrant crime gangs and ruled out racism as a motive, at one point placing some of the victims’ relatives under suspicion.

Protesters with 'Kein naechstes Opfer!' – 'No other victim!' – in Kassel, Germany hold posters of the people killed by the far-Right NSU cellCredit:
Swen Pfoertner/dpa

Even when Michèle Kiesewetter, a police officer, was shot dead with the same gun in 2007, investigators still failed to spot the connection. 

It was not until the bodies of Böhnhardt and Mundlos were found in a burned out camper van after a botched bank robbery in 2011 that the truth about the case began to emerge.

Ms Zschäpe handed herself in to police a few days later after setting fire to an apartment she shared with the two men. Police found a number of video recordings in the apartment in which the terror cell claimed responsibility for the immigrant killings.

Prosecutors also allege the group was responsible for a series of nail bombings including one in Cologne in 2004 in which 22 people were injured.

The trial raised questions over how much German intelligence knew about the group’s activities. A number of paid intelligence informants were in contact with the cell members, and at one point an intelligence officer was close to the scene of a shooting.

A parliamentary inquiry found no evidence of links between the intelligence services and the cell’s members.

Ms Zschäpe initially refused to comment at her trial and remained silent for two and a half years. She has since confessed to membership of the group but denied knowing anything about the murders or bombings. She claimed she was in love with Böhnhardt and stayed with the two men to prevent him killing himself.

“Please don’t convict me in their place for something that I never wanted to do and never did,” she said in a final statement to the court last week. 

The defence has argued for a ten-year jail sentence for Ms Zschäpe’s role in aiding the two men.

Prosecutors maintain she was a knowing participant in the killings and have called for a life sentence.

Verdicts are also expected in the cases of four other defendants on lesser charges of providing support to the terror cell.

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