Nazi terror-cell killer gets life, but 'the state has still failed'
Beate Zschäpe's trial for murdering 10 people might finally be over, but questions linger about German police blunders
Beate Zschäpe, the sole survivor of postwar Germany’s deadliest neo-Nazi terror cell, has been sentenced to life in prison for the murder of 10 people in a seven-year campaign of shootings and nail bombings across Germany.
Wednesday’s verdict brought an end to a marathon five-year trial over the crimes of the National Socialist Underground (NSU) that raised serious questions about the German police’s failure to realise it was dealing with a homegrown terror cell, and over how much German intelligence knew about the group’s activities.
There was brief applause in the Munich courtroom as the verdict was handed down, but the 43-year-old Zschäpe showed no reaction.
She was found guilty of the racially motivated murder of nine immigrants shot dead between 2000 and 2006, and the killing of a female police officer who was shot with the same gun in 2007. She was also found guilty of a series of nail bombings that targeted immigrant communities, including one in Cologne in 2004 in which 22 people were injured.
The court found Zschäpe was a fully active member of the NSU, a secretive three-person terror cell whose existence was only discovered after the other two members, Uwe Böhnhardt and Uwe Mundlos, died in a suspected suicide pact in 2011.
Lawyers for Zschäpe argued she was not involved in the murders.
After refusing to speak for the first two-and-a-half years of her trial, she admitted helping the two men and claimed it was because she was in love with Böhnhardt. But she claimed she knew nothing of the killings.
The court rejected her claims and found she was fully complicit in the group’s campaign of shootings and bombings. The attacks could only have been carried out with the assistance of Zschäpe, and she was an accomplice of “essential importance”, Judge Manfred Götzl found.
The killings had “Nazi racist motives” and were designed to spread “fear and insecurity” among immigrant communities, the judge found.
The NSU also hoped to inspire other extremists to carry out similar attacks.
Four others were found guilty of lesser offences of aiding the terror cell. Ralf Wohlleben was jailed for 10 years for providing the group with the gun used as the murder weapon. Another defendant, named only as Carsten S under German privacy laws, was jailed for three years for helping provide the gun.
Holger Gerlach was jailed for three years and Andre Eminger for two-and-a-half years for providing help to the group’s terror campaign.
But critics argued the trial had left unanswered questions over how much German intelligence knew about the NSU, after it emerged in hearings that several intelligence informants were in contact with the group, and an intelligence officer was close to the scene of one of the killings.
“Today’s verdict is only one piece of the puzzle. As long as the extent to which the authorities knew and the involvement of the intelligence services is not cleared up, the state has failed,” Victor Perli, an MP from the opposition Left Party, said.