Anatomy of Germany’s murders: Are politicians to blame?



A neo-Nazi group that has killed nine immigrants and a police officer in Germany since 2006 came to light by mere chance this past week, and the discovery is extremely troublesome for Germany, since it has emerged that the country’s national intelligence organization was also involved in the murders.

The investigation stems from a series of terrorist attacks in the past 10 years, in which eight Turkish and one Greek immigrant were killed. Police were unable to connect the murders earlier, but they were solved coincidentally last week when a woman, Beate Zschäpe (36), turned herself in after blowing up her rented apartment in the eastern city of Zwickau. She turned out to be a member of the National Socialist Underground (NSU), a neo-Nazi cell. Members of the group were being sought in connection with a bank robbery — in fact, one of 14 they had committed in the past 10 years, as was later established — two of them killed themselves when it became clear that they would be captured.

Among the salvaged documents found in Zschäpe’s burnt-down apartment was a hit list targeting 88 people, including two Munich politicians: Green deputy Jerzy Montag and Christian Social Union deputy Hans-Peter Uhl. The number 88 is significant as it corresponds to “HH” in the alphabet, standing for “Heil Hitler.”

However, the most disturbing discovery was the neo-Nazi group’s links to the Organization for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), Germany’s national intelligence agency. The BfV admitted that one of its agents had been present in April 2006 when two members of the NSU shot a 21-year-old Turk dead. The agent was known to have right-wing views. Hajo Funke, an expert in right-wing extremism, told ARD television: “It can’t be ruled out that this BfV employee took part in the murder, and that is a scandal.”

Cem Özdemir, co-chairman of the German political party Alliance ‘90/The Greens, in an open letter to President Christian Wulff, said the series of terrorist attacks on immigrants clearly proves the “existence of an extreme right-wing terrorist structure.” Özdemir said this extreme right-wing threat is of a scale previously unknown. “The state and society should fight this threat with determination,” Özdemir said, saying it was the primary duty of all German democrats to fight rightist extremism and racism.

More than 150 people have been killed in Germany by right-wing extremists since 1990, according to figures cited by Ercan Karakoyun, a sociologist who specializes in immigration. Karakoyun said bashing Turks and Islam had become commonplace, and people could express their hatred toward immigrants as matter-of-factly as if they were speaking about sports. “Islamist terrorism was overrated, while the danger posed by the German right was ignored. There are websites, such as Politically Incorrect, which receives more than 50,000 visitors a day, where Germans can comfortably disseminate anti-Islam or anti-Turkish hate speech.”

Germany’s right-wing politicians have long been criticized for their irresponsibility. Peter Widmann, a member of ?stanbul-based Bilgi University’s EU Institute, said former German Central Bank member Thilo Sarrazin, who published his anti-Islam sentiments in a book last year, drawing wide criticism, had unknowingly contributed to the discussion of racism in Germany, and in fact was an important milestone. Widmann, who recently spoke at a conference titled “Ignorance, Fear and Prejudice: Do Europeans Understand Turkey?” held jointly by the Bilgi EU Institute and the European Stability Initiative (ESI), said the debate was heated up by the Norwegian Anders Breivik, whose shooting of dozens of teenagers trapped on an island in July arguably produced the highest body count to date in a right-wing terrorist attack. Widmann said as repulsive and tragic as these attacks are, they have also contributed to the EU’s seeing Turkey’s potential membership in a new light. However, he agreed that some journalists have built their careers on Islamophobia, and some marginalized political parties often draw on Islamophobia as a populist tool to increase their visibility and popularity.

Intelligence involvement

Other documents that Zschäpe tried to destroy in her apartment point to the connection between the NSU and the Thüringen branch of the BfV. The documents indicate that all three members of the NSU cell, before they went underground, were actively involved with the extreme right-wing organization Thüringer Heimatschutz, which is openly affiliated with the NDP, a right-wing legal political party in Germany. It is now known for certain that Tino Brandt, the leader of Thüringer Heimatschutz, was a BfV agent.

The BfV has more than 5,000 employees and an annual budget of 300 million euro. It has hired a large number of secret agents, called “V-Mann” in Germany, to monitor the extreme right. It denies that the three NSU members were used as intelligence agents by the BfV, but documents found at Zschäpe’s apartment in Zwickau partially belie this denial.

Hans-Christian Ströbele, a Greens MP, says, “Nothing is impossible in intelligence,” adding that the involvement of intelligence organizations, particularly in extreme right groups, does bring forth a number of questions. He said in a statement to the Ströbele Süddeutsche Zeitung that the intelligence units that are part of the BfV failed to act to protect the victims because they put too much trust in their secret agents, who kept mum about the plans to kill the immigrants, or in cases when the agents did provide intelligence, they did not intervene in order to protect their own moles, which he said was “terrifying” if true.

The attacks have already triggered a response from the authorities that might help with the rising threat of racism. Chancellor Angela Merkel said the scandal was “shameful,” while Interior Minister Hans Peter Friedrich for the first time mentioned the existence of “right-wing terrorism in Germany.” Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger called for reforming the BfV, due to its failure to prevent the murders.

Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle visited the Germany Turkish Society (TGD), an umbrella organization for Turkish organizations in Germany, where he talked with TGD President Kenan Kolat and Turkish Ambassador to Germany Ahmet Acet. “We will fight racist violence with determination, using all the instruments available under the rule of law. … I am here today to show that there is no place for racism or extremism in Germany. We will illuminate the net of connections behind these incidents, regardless of the victims’ ethnic backgrounds.”

Tomas Oppermann, head of the Parliamentary Control Panel (PKGr), which is responsible for scrutinizing the work of the intelligence services at the federal level, has referred to the neo-Nazi murders as the most reprehensible murders in the country in the past 60 years. “I am ashamed of our state’s failure to protect the victims,” he said.

Chronology of NSU murders

The NSU murdered eight Turks, one Greek citizen and a German police officer within a time span of seven years.

Sept. 9, 2000, Nuremberg: 38-year-old florist Enver ?i?mek was killed. June 13, 2001, Nuremberg: 49-year-old tailor Abdurrahim Özüdo?ru was shot in the head. June 27, 2001, Hamburg: 31-year-old grocery store owner Süleyman Ta?köprü was killed. Aug. 29, 2001, Munich: 38-year-old grocery store owner Habil K?l?ç was killed. Feb. 25, 2004, Rostock: 25-year-old Yunus Turgut, who was working as an assistant at a food shop, was killed only four days after he arrived in Germany. June 9, 2005, Nuremberg: ?smail Ya?gür was found dead by a customer behind the counter of his döner shop. He was 50. June 15, 2005, Munich: Theodorus Boulgarides (41), owner of a locksmith shop, was killed. April 4, 2006, Dortmund: Kiosk owner Mehmet Kuba??k was killed by a right-wing terrorist. He was 39. April 6, 2006, Kassel: Internet cafe manager Halit Yozgat was the target of racist terrorism. He was 21. April 25, 2007, Heilbronn: Policewoman Michele Kaiserwetter was killed by the NSU. She was only 22.

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