Nov. 15 (Bloomberg) -- German officials pledged to find out how an underground neo-Nazi cell could have carried out murders, attacks and bank robberies for over a decade as the widening scandal turned to the role played by domestic intelligence.
Lawmakers who oversee intelligence matters in the lower house of parliament will investigate what security agents knew about an organization calling itself the National Socialist Underground, a group of at least three extremists that has in the past week been accused of carrying out 10 primarily race- motivated killings throughout Germany since 2000.
“I’m ashamed that our state wasn’t in a position to offer protection to those murdered and the many injured,” Social Democratic lawmaker Thomas Oppermann, who leads the group in parliament, told reporters today in Berlin. He said there is evidence that other people may have helped the NSU.
In what Chancellor Angela Merkel has called a “disgrace for Germany,” the cell is accused of killing nine men of Turkish or Greek origin and a policewoman between 2000 and 2007, carrying out a bomb attack in Cologne and robbing banks to raise cash. The crimes remained unsolved until this month, when the bodies of two of the members were found, leading to a trove of evidence showing connections with Germany’s neo-Nazi scene as well as the possible knowledge of government agents.
Oppermann confirmed that an undercover agent was at the crime scene of an April 2006 shooting of an Internet cafe owner in the western city of Kassel, though the agent told authorities he’d left before the killing took place. The incident was reported earlier by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper.
“The agent apparently had strong right-wing sympathies and has been suspended,” Oppermann told reporters.
The murders took place in cities throughout the country, such as Nuremberg, Munich, Hamburg and Dortmund, and targeted mostly men with immigrant backgrounds, such as shop owners. Police also have tied the NSU to a bomb attack in Cologne in 2004 that injured more than a dozen people, mostly of Turkish origin.
Federal authorities announced last week that they were taking over the investigation, with Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich calling the developments a “new dimension of right- wing violence.” Investigators are focusing on neo-Nazi activity in eastern Germany as well as counterintelligence operations in the eastern states Thuringia and Saxony and the western state of Hesse.
Agents Face Probe
Thuringia’s Interior Ministry said a former federal judge, Gerhard Schaefer, will oversee a commission looking into how deeply enmeshed the state’s investigators were in nationalist groups in the region in the late 1990s, when the NSU began operating underground. Oppermann said investigators would request information from counterintelligence officials in Hesse and Thuringia.
“One gets the impression that there were very problematic circumstances and people with questionable character” in the two states, Oppermann said. “For me it’s inconceivable that agents in such positions are also paid by the state even as they remain rabble-rousers in the neo-Nazi scene.”
The NSU’s activities came to light after two suspected cell members, identified as Uwe B. and Uwe M., were found dead in a camper vehicle in the Thuringian city of Eisenach on Nov. 4. The same day, an apartment they had been sharing with a third person, Beate Z., exploded in Zwickau in Saxony.
Police found murder weapons the cell had used as well as evidence of a “right-wing motive” for the murders, authorities said. Der Spiegel magazine posted clips of a confessional video found on DVDs in the Zwickau apartment, in which scenes of the murders and photos are transposed on a Pink Panther cartoon.
In the film, the group pledges more attacks unless there are “fundamental changes in politics and press freedom.”
Beate Z., 36, was taken into custody this week along with 37-year-old Holger G., who is accused of having contact with the group from the end of the 1990s, as well as providing identification documents and helping members rent recreational vehicles, prosecutors said.
--Editors: Leon Mangasarian, Jennifer Freedman.
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