23rd Oct 2016

Germany 'underestimated' neo-Nazi risk

  • A massive police presence was deployed in Berlin to protect asylum seekers from neo-Nazi protesters (Photo: ekvidi)

German authorities have "grossly underestimated" the threat of neo-Nazi groups, but security services are not racist, a parliament inquiry has found.

The study, which came out on Thursday (21 August) was commissioned after one far-right gang murdered 10 people over seven years without being discovered.

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Nine of its victims were of Turkish and Greek origin, with police wrongly assuming they were part of organised crime rings and that the killings were some form of score settling.

The three-person cell, called the National Socialist Underground (NSU), only came to light in November 2011 when Beate Zschaepe, its last surviving member, turned herself in.

Her two accomplices had killed themselves shortly earlier after a botched bank robbery.

Zschaepe is currently on trial in Munich for complicity to murder and 14 bank robberies.

A special parliamentary committee set up to look at the "systemic failure" of police and secret services in the case filed its 1,300-page-long report after consulting 12,000 files and listening to 100 witnesses.

It described the failure to find the murderers as a "historically unprecedented disaster."

"Right wing extremism was underestimated at all levels, police investigations were based on the assumption that Turks murder Turks," committee chairman Sebastian Edathy said in a press conference.

He noted that German security services have a "mentality issue" and said that if policemen with immigrant backgrounds had worked on the NSU cases the group might have been stopped earlier.

One of the study's 47 recommendations is to recruit more ethnically diverse policemen and to give police better intercultural training.

But he added there is no evidence to show that police or secret services were aware of the real identity of the killers and "looked away or encouraged them."

"We don't have structural racism, but we have some racists in police and secret services and they should be fired," Edathy said.

For their part, families of the victims say the report is not critical enough.

"Institutional racism is in their view the biggest problem this committee should have addressed, but that is not the case in this report," their lawyers said in a statement.

They said German politicians as well as security services have a "mentality problem" on the far right.

Meanwhile, a massive police presence was deployed in Berlin on Thursday to protect a newly opened refugee centre in Hellersdorf, where hundreds of neo-Nazi protesters had gathered calling for the foreigners to be sent back home.

The protesters greeted some arriving refugees with the Nazi salute.

Speaking at the press event on the NSU, Petra Pau, a leftist MP from Hellersdorf, said she was happy that "politicians from all parties stood up and came to a counter-demonstration."

"I would not say it is dangerous for asylum seekers to come to Germany, but we have to fight these neo-Nazi," she noted.

Wolfgang Wieland, a Green MP, also said it is important not to make a campaign issue out of immigrants and refugees, including Roma from Romania and Bulgaria.

Attempts by interior minister Hans-Peter Friedrich, a Bavarian Conservative, to capitalise on the idea to send back Roma who "abuse the welfare system" have so far failed to gain traction ahead of the 22 September elections.

"So far this has worked, but I hope it will hold over the next four weeks," Weiland said.

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