Germany to seek answers at landmark neo-Nazi trial
Berlin: A woman goes on trial in Germany Wednesday accused of being part of a rampant neo-Nazi killer cell whose random discovery exposed security flaws and blemished the country`s hard-won image abroad.
In the most high-profile case on German soil involving alleged far-right extremists since World War II, Beate Zschaepe, 38, faces charges linked to 10 mostly racially motivated murders over a seven-year period.
The landmark trial taking place amid a massive security clampdown in the southern city of Munich will also come under intense scrutiny beyond Germany`s borders, especially in Turkey where most of the victims originated.
Haunted by its Nazi past, Germany was stunned by revelations in late 2011 that the trio had managed to operate under the radar for more than a decade in what Chancellor Angela Merkel has called a "disgrace" for the country.
Pouring oil on the fire, the Munich superior regional court`s failure to guarantee Turkish media seats at the hearings strained relations between Turkey and Germany, which has a three million-strong Turkish community.
Germany`s top court ruled Friday that Turkish journalists should have access.
Zschaepe is charged with complicity in the murders of eight ethnic Turks, a Greek immigrant and a German policewoman between 2000 and 2007 as a founding -- and sole surviving -- member of the far-right gang, the National Socialist Underground (NSU).
The shootings of the nine immigrants took place in different cities around Germany in small businesses such as a florist`s, an Internet cafe, snack and vegetable shops during normal opening hours, prosecutors say.
Zschaepe is also accused of involvement in 15 armed robberies, arson and attempted murder in two bomb attacks, with 600 witnesses due to take the stand during the proceedings which could last more than two years.
She faces life in prison if convicted. Four male alleged accomplices will also go on trial on lesser charges.
Dubbed the "Nazi moll" in the media, morbid fascination in the bespectacled, unassuming looking brunette has been heightened by her refusal to talk while in custody since she turned herself in to police.
Zschaepe and her alleged NSU accomplices, Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Boehnhardt, who were reportedly linked in a love triangle, are believed to have gone underground in 1998 after police discovered their bomb-making operation.
Prosecutors say they funded their crime spree for 13 years with bank and post office robberies until the two men were found shot dead in an apparent murder-suicide following a heist on November 4, 2011.
Zschaepe then allegedly blew up their shared home in Zwickau in eastern Germany and distributed a DVD -- in the style of a "Pink Panther" cartoon -- which the group had produced earlier claiming responsibility for the attacks.
Four days after the deaths, she surrendered to police.
Prosecutors allege her role lay in helping ensure the insular trio remained inconspicuous by cultivating and maintaining an image of normality as well as managing the logistics and holding the purse strings.
"There`s no evidence she did the shooting," federal prosecutor Harald Range told reporters.
German security and domestic intelligence authorities have faced intense pressure to explain how the extremist gang was able to operate with impunity for so long and why they did not zero in on the far-right scene earlier.
Ahead of the trial`s opening, about 5,500 people demonstrated in Munich Saturday against far-right extremism, police said.
Sebastian Edathy, who chairs a parliamentary committee of inquiry set up to shed light on the affair, told reporters that it had been the "biggest failure by authorities in post-war history".
He blamed a lack of security branch cooperation, a gross underestimation of the extremist right-wing threat and investigators having long trained their suspicions only on the victims` own community.
His final report is due to be debated in parliament in September.
"Obviously it`s very problematic but in Germany, since Nazism we have a strict separation between police and any intelligence service," Gideon Bortsch, an expert on the far-right at Potsdam University, said.
Merkel, at a memorial to the victims in Berlin last year, said it was "particularly tormenting" that some of their relatives were wrongly suspected for years and asked for "forgiveness".
"For 11 years we couldn`t say that we were victims," Semiya Simsek, the daughter of the first man slain, has said.
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