Neo-Nazi murder suspect denies involvement in killings

Neo-Nazi murder suspect claims she was not involved in racist killings of ten people including eight Turks, one Greek and one German

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Defendant Beate Zschaepe sits with her lawyers Hermann Borchert (L) and Mathias Grasel (2nd R) prior to the continuation of her trial at a courtroom in Munich, southern Germany, December 9, 2015

The lone surviving suspect in a neo-Nazi murder case that shocked Germany denied on Wednesday of having played a role in a seven-year racist killing spree carried out by two of her close friends, although she did admit feeling moral guilt for the deaths.

Breaking her two-and-a-half-year silence in a closely-watched trial in Munich, Beate Zschaepe said in a statement read out by her lawyer that she had only been informed about the murders after the fact.

Prosecutors accuse Zschaepe, 40, of being part of a covert cell called the National Socialist Underground (NSU) that murdered eight Turks, a Greek and a German policewoman between 2000 and 2007, as well as conducting two bombings in immigrant areas of Cologne and 15 bank robberies. She faces life imprisonment if found guilty.

"I was involved neither in the preparations, nor in the carrying out" of the murders, Zschaepe said in the statement.

She smiled as she entered the courtroom wearing a dark suit with a pink and brown scarf under her mane of curly hair.

Two men, Uwe Boehnhardt and Uwe Mundlos, are seen as the ringleaders of the small gang. Zschaepe had close relationships with both of the men, who committed suicide in 2011 when police discovered the gang by chance.

The group was based in eastern Germany, where right-wing violence grew after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and collapse of the communist state.

Police Failings

An investigation released last year said local police had "massively underestimated" the risk of far-right violence and in a "fiasco" of missteps allowed the cell to go undetected for more than a decade. The case sparked outrage and disbelief across Germany.

Zschaepe denied being a member of the NSU and described feeling horrified and bewildered when Boehnhardt and Mundlos told her about some of the murders.

She considered informing the police at one point, she said, but the men threatened to commit suicide and she was financially dependent on them.

Zschaepe says she distracted herself by playing computer games and drinking up to four bottles of sparkling wine a day.

"I feel morally guilty because I could not prevent ten murders and two bomb attacks," she said.

"It was very clear to me that I couldn't return to normal life," she added. "They didn't need me - I needed them."

Zschaepe described the way in which the trio lived, in where they lived in constant fear of being discovered, forcing her to move homes several times. She said the men asked her to destroy all evidence of their crimes if they died and she agreed.

The existence of the NSU only came to light by chance in November 2011, when Mundlos and Boehnhardt committed suicide after a bungled bank robbery and torched their caravan in the eastern town of Eisenach.

When Zschaepe heard the news, she said she set fire to a flat she shared with the men in Zwickau, 180 kilometers away, and fled with their cats and DVDs. She said she had wanted to warn a neighbour but no one answered when she rang the doorbell.

In the charred remnants of the caravan police found the gun used to murder all 10 victims. They also found a grotesque DVD presenting the NSU and claiming responsibility for the killings. In it the bodies of the murder victims are pictured while a cartoon Pink Panther tots up the number of deaths.

Last year, a report into the handling of the case, said police had ignored signs that the killings were racially motivated, instead focusing on family members of the victims as potential suspects.