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Neo-Nazi cell shines light on far-right extremism in Germany

Neo-Nazi bank robbers found dead last week are suspected in Germany's worst case of racially motivated killings. Their confessional tape reveals a current of right-wing extremism that politicians have long denied.

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The authorities hope to gather information from Beate Zschäpe, who turned herself in last week after firebombing the house that she had shared with Mundlos and Böhnhardt, and from a fourth man suspected to be a member of the network who was arrested yesterday. The fact that Ms. Zschäpe did not kill herself like her accomplices raised suspicions she could be an informer.

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At times, up to 160 officers were on the “kebab murders” cases, but none of the cases were solved and no one ever claimed responsibility – until now. 

Police say they also found DVDs showing the two bank robbers confessing to the murders of the policewoman and the immigrants as well as the bombing of a Cologne street that injured dozens of mostly Turkish residents. In the recording, they claimed to be members of a group called “National Socialist Underground,” a “network of comrades who act rather than talk.” Authorities were previously unaware of the group's existence.

Underestimating potential of far-right violence

“The authorities underestimate the potential of far-right violence in Germany,” says Bernd Wagner, a former police detective who now heads a program that helps ex-neo-Nazis who want to break with their past. “There are small groups aiming to reach terrorist capabilities. But I don’t think we are looking at a national terrorism network yet.”

The German authorities still remember the government’s failed attempt to ban the far right National Democratic Party in 2003, when it was found to be so heavily infiltrated with informers for the government that the constitutional court saw no basis for a successful case. 

Still, the German government and law enforcement agencies are now under a lot of pressure. 

“This is right-wing terrorism,” says Kenan Kolat, a leader of the Turkish community in Germany. “We want to know how it is possible that these perpetrators could live among us undetected for more than 10 years. We want answers now.”

Mr. Kolat is particularly upset because authorities have known about the two suspected killers, Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Böhnhardt, for a long time. In the 1990s, they were part of the local neo-Nazi scene in Jena, a city in Thuringia in southeast Germany. In 1998, police tried to arrest them after bomb building material was found at their house, but together with accomplice Zschäpe they escaped and went underground.

“It is very worrying that no connections were made between the serial killings all over Germany and the far-right scene in Thuringia,” Interior Minister Friedrich told a German newspaper today. The minister is expecting answers from the domestic intelligence service, and these could be awkward. Either the agents really lost track of the bomb-making trio, or they were on their heels but did not prevent the crimes.

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