Germany’s “National Socialist Underground” Trial Starts

beateThe trial of five people alleged to be members of an organization calling itself the “National Socialist Underground” (NSU) has started in Germany, and promises to capture local media attention which is still obsessed with anything to do with Nazis.

At the first proper day of proceedings, main defendent Beate Zschäpe was accused of involvement in ten killings—nine Turks and one German police officer.

The 37-year old woman is also accused of complicity in two bombings in Cologne, fifteen armed robberies, membership in a terrorist organization, attempted murder, and arson. The acts were committed over a period from 1998 to 2011.

The state has claimed that Zschäpe was a founding member of the NSU, and as such bears full complicity with all the acts, apparently carried out by two others, Uwe Böhnhardt and Uwe Mundlos. Both these men died in 2011, apparently in a joint suicide after a botched bank robbery which put the police on their trail.

The state has said that Zschäpe did not carry out any murders herself, but was “indispensable to the NSU group.” According to the prosecution, Zschäpe helped to create a “veneer of normalcy” for the cell, was in charge of logistics, served as accountant, and rented vehicles for the group.

In addition, the state claims she archived articles discussing the crimes of the terror cell and allegedly was involved in procuring a weapon and false documents. Finally, she is believed to have set fire to the apartment that had served as the final hiding place for the trio and to have sent out DVDs in which the group claimed responsibility for the attacks.

She faces a possible life sentence if convicted of the main charge, and is unlikely to testify in the trial. When asked in court to provide information about herself, one of her attorneys told the judge that “She won’t make any statements about her person.”

The bombings took place in a district of the city of Cologne where many Turks live. In one of the blasts, some 22 people were injured.

Four other alleged accomplices are also on trial. Ralf Wohlleben is charged with accessory to murder in nine cases. He allegedly helped the trio financially when they went into hiding in 1998 and later provided them with more money.

In late 1999 or early 2000, the state alleged, Wohlleben helped the group acquire a handgun and ammunition with the aid of a courier. The semi-automatic Ceska 83 was identified as the murder weapon in nine cases which saw Turkish kebab shop owners and their employees shot to death in cities around Germany.

Holger G. (only identified as such under German law which prohibits the full public naming of accused persons before they have been convicted) has been charged with supporting “a terrorist organization in three cases.”

He is believed to have been in contact with the trio since the late 1990s and allegedly gave over his drivers’ license, a health insurance card, and his passport to the NSU, enabling its members to act covertly. He also transported a weapon for them, and has apparently made a full confession.

Carsten S. has been charged with “accessory to murder in nine cases.” The state has claimed that he purchased the murder weapon—with money provided by Ralf Wohlleben—and delivered it to the cell at one of their bases in the city of Chemnitz. He has also allegedly made a comprehensive confession to the authorities.

André E. has been charged with “support of a terrorist organization, complicity in a bomb attack, and accessory to robbery.”

He allegedly assisted the cell starting in the 1990s, helping them with car rentals and the lease for an apartment. The 33-year-old and his wife allegedly visited the NSU-members regularly, and E. allowed Zschäpe to pose as his wife in 2006.

The NSU trio, the state charge sheet said, believed the German nation was under threat and had decided to target people of Turkish descent, “selecting them arbitrarily and killing them through execution-style shootings.”

They had a total of more than 20 firearms “including two submachine guns with more than 1,600 rounds of ammunition,” and a camouflaged firing device designed “to fire off a salvo of bullets without being spotted by the public.”

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