Germany admits gross errors after neo-Nazi killing spree

BERLIN — The German government admitted Monday gross errors by the security services in dealing with a new brand of far-right "terrorism" after revelations of a decade-long killing spree by neo-Nazis.

Chancellor Angela Merkel called the murders of nine shopkeepers of mainly Turkish origin and a Germany policewoman by right-wing extremists "shameful for Germany" and her interior minister said investigators were trying to learn whether a larger militant network had escaped their notice.

"It is deeply troubling that there was no connection made between the murder series across Germany and the far-right scene in Thuringia," the east German state where the group was based, Hans-Peter Friedrich told the daily Bild.

"State interior ministers are calling for better co-ordination between police and domestic intelligence on the state level. I strongly back that."

Federal prosecutors launched the probe last week after the discovery of a pistol used in the nine murders in the home of a 36-year-old woman, Beate Zschaepe, a self-confessed neo-Nazi.

Wanted by police for questioning over an armed robbery in the eastern city of Jena on November 4, she had turned herself in after blowing up a rented flat in nearby Zwickau.

Two suspects in the robbery, who were close to Zschaepe in the far-right scene, were found dead in a caravan shortly afterwards in an apparent suicide.

Inside the caravan police found another firearm, that of the policewoman killed by a shot to her head in the southern town of Heilbronn in 2007.

In a chilling DVD left behind by the two men, Uwe Mundlos, 38, and Uwe Boehnhardt, 34, they admitted to the unsolved murders of eight businessmen of Turkish origin and a Greek between 2000 and 2006 as well as the policewoman.

The killings had long been called the "kebab murders" because many of the victims ran snack shops.

News weekly Der Spiegel said they also admitted in the video to a 2004 nail bomb attack against Turkish immigrants in Cologne in which several people were injured.

A judge issued a detention order for Zschaepe on Sunday, after arresting a 37-year-old alleged accomplice identified as Holger G.

Newspapers splashed a front-page picture of the unassuming woman with her auburn hair tied back in a ponytail wearing a pair of blue-tinted eyeglasses.

She has reportedly refused to speak to police until she wins an agreement for a lesser sentence in return for a full confession.

Bild reported that the killers had shot many of their victims in the face at point-blank range and even filmed their bloodied bodies as trophies.

"There is no doubt this represents a new dimension of far-right violence which is why federal prosecutors are investigating accusations of formation of a terrorist organization," Friedrich said.

He said that despite fervent speculation, there was no evidence to indicate that any of the three had been working as informants for the intelligence services.

Media at the weekend speculated about the existence of a "Brown Army Faction" — a far-right version of the now-defunct far-left Red Army Faction that killed more than 30 people between the 1970s and 1990s.

Merkel told a party congress of her conservative Christian Democratic Union that authorities would "do everything in their power" to track down all those responsible.

She and other party leaders put forward a motion calling for a fresh look at banning a neo-Nazi party, the NPD, after a previous attempt failed in 2003 on legal grounds.

The head of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, Aiman Mazyek, said in the daily Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung that the problem of far-right "terrorism" had been "chronically underestimated" while the focus was on Islamic militants,

The Turkish foreign ministry called on Berlin to get to the bottom of the case and root out extremism on its soil, as Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle expressed fears for Germany's image abroad.

About three million people of Turkish origin live in Germany.

© Copyright (c) AFP