World Bulletin/News Desk
The surviving member of a neo-Nazi cell blamed for a series of racist murders that scandalised Germany and shamed its authorities goes on trial on Monday in one of the most anticipated court cases in recent German history.
The chance discovery of the gang, the National Socialist Underground (NSU), which had gone undetected for more than a decade, has forced Germany to acknowledge it has a more militant and dangerous neo-Nazi fringe than previously thought, and exposed staggering intelligence failings.
The trial in Munich will focus on 38-year-old Beate Zschaepe, who is charged with complicity in the murder of eight Turks, a Greek and a policewoman between 2000-2007, as well as two bombings in immigrant areas of Cologne, and 15 bank robberies.
"With its historical, social and political dimensions the NSU trial is one of the most significant of post-war German history," lawyers for the family of the first victim, flower seller Enver Simsek, said in a statement.
Zschaepe, wearing a black jacket and white shirt, chatted with her lawyers before the judges entered, her back turned to the television cameras. One of four other defendants charged with assisting the NSU hid under a dark hood.
Outside the courthouse, German-Turkish community groups and anti-racism demonstrators held up banners including one that read: "Hitler-child Zschaepe, you will pay for your crimes".
About 500 police officers provided tight security. Members of the public and media, who lined up before dawn for a chance to attend, even had their hair searched before being allowed in.
The case is expected to take place with 85 hearings and extend up to two years. There are about 60 solicitors representing 80 interlocutors and 606 witnesses will be interviewed. Five people will appear in the dock and the German prosecutors prepared a 488-page indictment.
In the "A 101" court room, there are 250 seats and the presiding judge of the case is Manfred Gotzl.
The case has profoundly shaken a country that believed it had learned the lessons of its past, and has reopened an uncomfortable debate about whether Germany must do more to tackle the far-right and lingering racist attitudes.
Four others charged with assisting the NSU will sit with Zschaepe on the bench.
A total of 50 media members are allowed to cover the trial in the courthouse.
Relatives and kinsmen of the victims and the sufferers of the NSU terror cell have been taken into the court room from the side entrance of the building.
The existence of the gang only came to light in November 2011 when the two men believed to have founded the NSU with Zschaepe, Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Boehnhardt, committed suicide after a botched bank robbery and set their caravan ablaze in the eastern town of Eisenach.
In the charred vehicle, police found the gun used to murder all 10 victims. They also found a grotesque DVD presenting the NSU and claiming responsibility for the killings. In it the bodies of the murder victims are pictured while a cartoon Pink Panther tots up the number of dead.
After her companions' suicides, Zschaepe is believed to have set fire to a flat she shared with the men in Zwickau, 180 km (110 miles) away, and gone on the run. Four days later she turned herself in to police in her hometown of Jena, saying "I'm the one you are looking for."
For the victims' families the trial will be the first chance to come face to face with Zschaepe, a woman whose troubling, blank expression and resolute silence since her arrest has left people struggling to make sense of her motives.
The trial offers a chance for the woman dubbed "Nazi bride" in the media to break her silence, but few think she will.
Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 77 people in 2011, wrote to Zschaepe in May 2012, addressing her as "Dear Sister" and urging her to use the trial to spread far-right ideology, according to German media.
Hearings are scheduled into early 2014, and witnesses due to appear include Zschaepe's estranged relatives and the parents of Mundlos and Boehnhardt.
Prosecutors say the gang chose people running small businesses or shops as easy, vulnerable targets, in an attempt to terrify migrants and hound them out of Germany.
Some of the relatives even came under suspicion themselves because police simply did not consider a far-right motive.
"All the relatives have the huge problem that they were never treated as victims. During the investigations they were either considered suspects, or as relatives of criminals," said lawyer Angelika Lex.
The start of the trial comes as a relief to families, after it was postponed by a fortnight due to the court's poor handling of media access. It initially did not guarantee any Turkish media a courtroom seat, despite the number of Turkish victims.
This prompted a successful complaint by a Turkish newspaper and the Munich court was ordered to redistribute seats, which it did via a lottery.
While judges try Zschaepe and the NSU's suspected accomplices, Germany's lower house of parliament is conducting its own inquiry into the institutional failings.
Germany's patchwork of intelligence agencies are set to undergo reforms, after the inquiry found they failed to share information and neglected the far-right threat. The head of domestic intelligence resigned last July.
The trio had been known to authorities during their teenage years in Jena, for their racist hate crimes and bomb making, but had managed to escape arrest and assume new identities.
"The Banality of Evil" read the front page of the newspaper Die Welt. The mass-circulation Bild wrote that Zschaepe "looks like a woman at the supermarket till" rather than someone "rabidly mad or explosive".
Last Mod: 06 Mayıs 2013, 13:40