BERLIN — Germany said Wednesday it would launch a national database of neo-Nazis similar to a list of known Islamists in response to revelations of at least 10 murders by a far-right cell.
Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich told reporters that a national registry would compile "information about right-wing extremist perpetrators so that it is possible to automatically match up data."
After blistering criticism of gross errors in the decade-long investigation of the 10 killings, Friedrich said domestic intelligence agents and police on the federal and state level would be required to hand in relevant data.
The aim would be to identify links between crimes and possible militant networks, Friedrich said, although critics indicated authorities already had such data at their disposal.
Chancellor Angela Merkel this week called the murder of nine shopkeepers of mainly Turkish origin and a German policewoman between 2000 and 2007 by a small group calling itself the National Socialist Underground "shameful for Germany".
Federal prosecutors took over the probe last week after the discovery of the pistol used in the killings 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, a move police presume was to destroy evidence.
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 men of Turkish origin and a Greek around the country between 2000 and 2006 as well as the policewoman.
The killings had long been called the "kebab murders" because some of the victims ran snack shops.
Police are also examining possible links to other attacks targeting immigrants and Germany's Jewish community over a 13-year period.
Zschaepe and another suspected accomplice are in custody as police probe whether they were working with a possible wider network of militants.
Meanwhile according to media reports, investigators found what they thought could have been a list of other possible targets including members of parliament and Muslim community representatives.
Authorities are under pressure to explain how the group was able to operate with impunity for years and why they did not zero in on the far-right scene at an earlier stage.
President Christian Wulff said he would meet with relatives of the victims along with members of the government and the parliament, saying he shared the "outrage of many people in our country".
The case has also revived a debate about banning the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD), following an attempt that was struck down by Germany's constitutional court in 2003.
The court found that the use of paid informants blurred the lines of responsibility in the party, undermining the legal case against it.
Merkel called this week for weighing up a new bid to outlaw the party but said she would only move forward if the bid would stand up to a court review.
Critics of a possible ban say it would have done nothing to stop the cell's killing spree and runs the risk of driving right-wing extremists further underground.
© Copyright (c) AFP