While detectives are scrambling to uncover helpers of the self-styled National Socialist Underground (NSU), it is becoming increasing clear that the group belied the stereotype of the stupid, thuggish neo-Nazi – they managed to stay hidden while hoarding weapons and conducting a slow-motion killing spree across Germany.
Those investigating the murders of nine Turkish and Greek people in small shops across Germany failed to take the possibility of a racist motive seriously, focusing instead on possible debt problems or crime connections of the dead men.
Now the question is being posed of how the authorities failed to link the murders – as well as whether the focus on Islamist terrorism since 2001 led intelligence services to take their eye off the ball regarding the potential for far-right violence.
The right-wing daily Die Welt expressed astonishment that a neo-Nazi terror cell could operate in Germany unhindered for years.
“Just imagine: A leftist or Islamist cell is noticed by the authorities while planning terror attacks. After an early raid by the police turns up a pipe bomb, the entire cell manages to go underground. The police, politicians and the public would be extremely alarmed after two or three murders.
“There would be a high-profile investigation by a special task force. And now this! An apparently right-wing extremist terror cell operated for 10 years nationwide. They executed nine people in cold blood for just one reason: They weren't born German.”
Writing that Germany's image was at stake, the paper demanded an investigation into any possible failings of the authorities.
“Tireless and total scrutiny is now necessary. Most crucially, the question has to be answered what role the intelligence agencies played, especially due to the fact that their past efforts to infiltrate the radical right-wing scene have frequently sparked dubious results.
“There also needs to be a probe into whether this was an east German phenomenon – and whether there was any institutional weakness regarding the right-wing radical scene. The image of our reunified country, its institutions, and its population are at stake.”
The left-wing Tageszeitung said the discovery of the neo-Nazi terrorist group marked a caesura for the country, which should force a new examination of the dangers posed by the radical right.
Although there have always been fascist-motivated attacks and murders in Germany, the paper suggested the fact that this time the 'brown' terrorists were able to operate for more than a decade required new thinking.
“Police and intelligence services have systematically underestimated the criminal potential of violent neo-Nazi criminals,” it said.
Those investigating the nine murders could not to be expected to make a connection to the three neo-Nazis, but they could have admitted at least the possibility of a racist motive.
“If one tries to imagine the worldview of the investigating officials, one finds entrenched stereotypes. The arch-enemy is militant Islamism, but the new left-wing terrorism has to be kept in view. Interior Minister Friedrich spoke of the necessity of a resolute fight. An opportunistic change of colours, or insight into the depth of the caesura that the Nazi murders signal?”
The paper even used a phrase from the far-right terrorist propaganda, finishing its piece with, “Not words, actions will decide.”
Berlin's centrist daily Der Tagesspiegel wrote that extreme-right violence had been consistently underestimated in Germany.
“Were security officials, politicians and society blind in the right eye? Germany is experiencing a similar shock to Norway last summer, when the right-wing extremist Anders Breivik caused an unimaginable orgy of violence. Both countries must now consider the unthinkable when scrutinizing seemingly limited right-wing extremists. Neo-Nazis can turn into professionally operating terrorists. No-one would dispute the same of leftist extremists.”
But the daily suggested that it might be premature to talk of banning the neo-Nazi NPD party just yet.
“It has to be clear what mistakes have been made by security officials. Only then would it be appropriate to start thinking about a second attempt to ban the NPD. That's being demanded now, even though success is uncertain and it remains to be seen if the NPD had ties to the (terror cell) trio. And a ban, so much is certain, would hardly end ‘brown' violence.”
The conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung asked, “Was it a fatal mistake to treat the signs of far-right terrorism in Germany as provincial idiocy in comparison to overarching Islamist terrorism?”
The most important question of the day regards the work of the authorities, and whether they were sharing information about the killings across the country – and if it was an error to not take the fascists seriously in comparison to Islamist terrorism.
“Not only politicians tend to have answers before the questions have even been properly framed in such cases. This is why the old hackneyed ideas are surfacing again, which always come up in Germany when the state protection authorities are suspected of playing down right-wing extremism.
“This reaches from a ban on the NPD to the creation of a new 'defence centre.' But there is no sensible reason to play down the dangers, nor build them up. Both of these options do not serve the fight against terrorism, rather play into the hands of the deluded.”