Families demand more answers as verdict set for German neo-Nazis

Families demand more answers as verdict set for German neo-Nazis

Only living member of National Socialist Underground and supporters face punishment over killings of 10 people, including nine migrants, in case that highlighted shoddy police work

Banners with the names and pictures of victims of the National Socialist Underground (NSU) are fixed at a framework in Zwickau, eastern Germany, on July 10, 2018. (AFP / dpa / Hendrik Schmidt)
Banners with the names and pictures of victims of the National Socialist Underground (NSU) are fixed at a framework in Zwickau, eastern Germany, on July 10, 2018. (AFP / dpa / Hendrik Schmidt)

MUNICH (AP) — Families of the people killed by a neo-Nazi group that sought to terrorize migrants in Germany called Tuesday for an investigation to continue even as the trial of group’s only known surviving member and four supporters draws to a close this week.

Campaigners and lawyers for the relatives claim there is compelling evidence the National Socialist Underground — suspected of 10 killings and at least two bomb attacks — had a wider network of supporters than authorities have acknowledged, including paid informants for German security services.

The NSU operated in secret for almost 14 years before two of its three core members died in an apparent murder-suicide in 2011.

The crimes that authorities would attribute to them sent shockwaves through German society at a time when many believed the country was slowly accepting its migrant population. The case has gained additional significance with the rise of the far-right Alternative for Germany party in recent years.

The party has taken a strong anti-immigration line, railing against refugees and questioning whether even second- and third-generation immigrants truly belong in German society.

After the deaths of the three National Socialist Underground members, a claim of responsibility subsequently mailed to media by Beate Zschaepe, now on trial in Munich, exposed myriad mistakes by investigators.

In this file photo taken on May 06, 2013 Beate Zschaepe, center, who is charged with complicity in the murders of eight ethnic Turks, a Greek immigrant and a German policewoman between 2000 and 2007 as a founding member and sole survivor of the far-right gang dubbed the National Socialist Underground (NSU), enters the court prior to the start of her trial at a Munich courthouse, southern Germany. (AFP PHOTO / Christof STACHE)

They long had ruled out a far-right motive for the slayings and instead suspected the victims of being involved in organized crime, prompting accusations of institutional racism from human rights groups .

Of the 10 people killed by the NSU between 2000 and 2007, eight were men of Turkish origin, one man was Greek and the tenth was a German policewoman.

Barbara John, the government’s ombudswoman for the victims and their families, said the trial was an attempt by authorities to atone for their “blindness.”

“The terrible acts could have been avoided,” John told The Associated Press, “if the relevant authorities had assessed the crimes better and with less prejudice.”

“This is true also for the shameful suspicion that the families were somehow involved in the crimes,” she said.

Abdulkerim Simsek, second from left, son of Enver Simsek who was killed in Nuremberg, his lawyer Seda Basay, left, Gamze Kubasik, the daughter of Mehmet Kubasik who was killed in Dortmund and Arif S, third from right, who is a victim of the nail bomb attack in Cologne sit on the podium on the eve of the verdict against the right-wing terror cell NSU in Munich, southern Germany, Tuesday, July 11, 2018. (Peter Kneffel/dpa via AP)

Gamze Kubasik, whose father, Mehmet Kubasik, was shot dead in his convenience stall in the western city of Dortmund on April 4, 2006, said the initial police accusations leveled at the victims remained painful.

“The NSU killed my father. The investigators took his honor,” she said.

Kubasik told reporters that relatives of NSU victims had hoped for “100 percent clarity” when the trial began five years ago.

“Now there’s a big hole inside of me,” she said.

Among the key questions families had hoped the trial would reveal was why their relatives were targeted, said Abdulkerim Simsek, son of Enver Simsek, who died two days after being shot at his flower stall in Nuremberg on Sept. 9, 2000.

“Why did the killers choose my father,” Simsek said. “I can’t and won’t believe that it was chance.”

In this April 6, 2017 file photo participants of the demonstration ‘Kein naechstes Opfer!’ (lit. ‘No other victim!’) walk through the inner city of Kassel, Germany, holding posters of people killed by the far-right cell NSU. (Swen Pfoertner/dpa via AP)

Lawyers representing the families as plaintiffs in court, as allowed under German law, say the wide geographical distribution of the victims suggests the NSU received information from local contacts in the cities where the killings were carried out.

Zschaepe refused to answer any questions from the families’ lawyers during the trial.

After the NSU was exposed, a string of mistakes by Germany’s many federal and state-level security agencies also came to light, including the fact that paid informants with codenames such as “Primus,” ”Piatto” and “Corelli” were close to the group for years.

In one case, an employee of the country’s domestic intelligence agency was inside an internet cafe when the owner was gunned down, but claimed not to have seen or heard anything problematic.

Committee chairman Sebastian Edathy , center right, and other members of the committee present the final report of the NSU investigation committee on the National Socialist Underground to parliament president Norbert Lammert, center left, in Berlin, Thursday Aug. 22, 2013. (AP/dpa, Rainer Jensen)

Chancellor Angela Merkel publicly apologized to the victims and their families in 2012, pledging that authorities would “do everything to investigate the murders, uncover those who helped and back them, and ensure the perpetrators get their just punishment.”

“Some people clearly didn’t heed Merkel’s words,” said Winfried Ridder, who led the German domestic intelligence agency’s work on the far-left Red Army Faction for over a decade.

In this June 9, 2004 file photo a policeman takes pictures of a bombed barber’s shop in Cologne, western Germany. (AP /Martin Meissner,)

Ridder, who is now retired, told the AP that the practice of paying informants who are themselves neo-Nazis meant German security services had done more to protect their sources than to track down the NSU.

“The intelligence agencies should be on trial, too,” he said.

Sebastian Scharmer, a lawyer for the Kubasik family, accused federal prosecutors of dragging their feet in the investigation, thereby allowing “crude conspiracy theories” to flourish.

A spokeswoman for the Federal Prosecutors Office, Frauke Koehler, said nine suspects remain under investigation, but it’s unclear whether any of them will be charged.

Scharmer said he feared a group like the NSU could strike again, despite the life sentence Zschaepe could receive Wednesday and the deaths of her two alleged accomplices, Uwe Boehnhardt and Uwe Mundlos.

“It could happen again at any moment, if it’s not already happening,” he said.

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