Germans ask 'how' as neo-Nazi crimes unfold

By Melissa Eddy

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Nov. 19 2011 5:00 a.m. MST

FILE - In this July 27, 2000 file picture rescue workers take an injured person from the area where an explosion tore through the entrance tunnel to a central Duesseldorf commuter train station , injuring more than 10 people. This is one of several unsolved crimes, that are all now reopened as the possible work of a small band of neo-Nazis who allegedly killed and terrorized minorities for a decade, undetected by Germany's thousands of security authorities nationwide before they finally tripped up this month.

Edgar R. Schoepal, File, AP photo

BERLIN — A 2000 firebomb targeting Russian Jewish immigrants at a Duesseldorf railway station. A 2004 nailbombing in a Cologne immigrant neighborhood. A 2008 fire in a Ludwigshafen apartment building that killed nine Turkish immigrants, including five children.

All unsolved crimes, and all now reopened as the possible work of a small band of neo-Nazis who allegedly killed and terrorized minorities for a decade, undetected by Germany's thousands of security authorities nationwide before they finally tripped up this month.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has vowed a thorough investigation of the group's crimes, calling them "a disgrace, shameful for Germany."

Yet many questions remain. Key among them is whether the group is responsible for deadly hate crimes beyond the 10 deaths for which they are blamed, and whether there are other members or sympathizers still at large. More broadly, the nation is asking how such a group could have been allowed to carry out these crimes undetected for so long.

The case has provoked widespread criticism that in an effort to focus on leftist and Islamic terrorism, authorities have been blind to the threat of the right.

"If this had happened in Turkey, if eight or nine Germans had been killed with the same weapon and if the murderers were not found, all European nations would be up in arms, they would declare Turkey to be a barbarian country not fit to live in," Elif Kubasik, whose husband Mehmet was killed in April 2006 in a slaying linked to the group, told Turkey's Sabah daily.

Other families of the nine known minority victims have come forward with tales of how police suspected organized crime, drugs or interethnic rivalries — anything but far-right violence. Aside from one Greek, all of these victims were of Turkish origin, and the group took responsibility for their deaths in a homemade video. The group is also believed have carried out the 2007 shooting death of a German police officer.

Authorities are now scrambling to determine whether the group was linked to other violent crimes targeting immigrants.

In the amateur DVD, the group also appeared to take credit for a 2004 bombing in the Muelheim district of Cologne, home to many Turks, in which 22 people were injured. The interior minister at the time, Otto Schily, said that attack was likely the work of "not terrorists but the criminal underworld."

Investigators are also taking a new look at a July 27, 2000, explosion at a rail station in Duesseldorf that injured 10 recent immigrants from the former Soviet Union, six of them Jewish. They have also reopened the investigation of a blaze in 2008 in the southern city of Ludwigshafen, in which five children and four adults — all ethnic Turks — died.

"We have a growing scandal," Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung on Friday. "Thirty-two state police and domestic security offices have not been able to stop a series of far-right extremist murders."

Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger and Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich held a crisis meeting Friday with representatives of the law enforcement agencies to try to figure out what went wrong, and where.

Although the emphasis is on solving the crimes, they also discussed the possible restructuring of Germany's complex web of police and security agencies — a decentralized system set up in a post-World War II attempt to avoid the repeat of the Nazis' absolute consolidation of power.

"Federal prosecutors have to focus on the crime and its perpetrators," Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said Thursday. "Politicians have to answer the question of whether the security structures in Germany can work effectively and efficiently and what changes might be needed."

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