The self-styled National Socialist Underground (NSU), a trio of far-right extremists thought to be responsible for at least 10 murders over the past decade, appears to have relied on help from other neo-Nazis over the years.
After the arrest of a 37-year-old man identified only as Holger G. on Monday, public broadcaster ARD reported that the group also received support from a well-known neo-Nazi in Saxony called Matthias D.
“There are indications there were other helpers,” said Thomas Oppermann, chairman of the parliamentary intelligence committee, on Tuesday. “Those aiding terrorists have to be found and severely punished.”
Concerns about the role played by the domestic intelligence agents monitoring neo-Nazis in Germany grew on Tuesday after it was revealed that one official was possibly present when a man was shot dead by members of the terrorist group.
The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported that a new investigation had been launched into the 2006 killing of Halit Yozgat who was shot dead in his internet cafe in Kassel. His murder is one of several xenophobic killings claimed by the NSU terror group.
An employee of the Hesse state intelligence service – the Verfassungsschutz – apparently failed to contact the authorities after leaving the cafe just a minute before the execution-style killing. An initial investigation into the man, who was later fired from his job, ruled him out as directly involved in the killing.
But there are now questions whether he was near the scenes of six other slayings committed by the NSU members.
The spate of at least nine murders of immigrant shopkeepers across the country between 2000 and 2006 left investigators grasping at straws and suspecting gangland crime – until the weapon used in them all was found in the wreckage of a flat in Zwickau. The authorities on Tuesday also identified a gun used to kill at policewoman in Heilbronn in 2007.
Responsibility for the shopkeeper murders was claimed by the NSU in a video found in the flat, which had been occupied by neo-Nazis Uwe Mundlos, 38, and Uwe Böhnhardt, 34, who killed themselves after being caught by police following a bank robbery.
German officials are facing a mountain of questions about how the two men and their alleged accomplice Beate Zschäpe, 36, managed to remain hidden so long. They apparently travelled the country killing people for more than ten years after authorities discovered they were making bombs. Zschäpe was arrested after turning herself in over the weekend.
But the fact that the trio were members of the neo-Nazi group Thüringer Heimatschutz, which was at one point led by an informant of the Thüringian state Verfassungsschutz, has raised questions about whether some degree of official links were used to help them remain out of sight.
“The Verfassungsschutz very clearly was not able to do its job. It failed,” said Greens MP Hans-Christian Ströbele, a member of the parliamentary intelligence committee.
The Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper on Tuesday said some detectives were sceptical of the version of events which is now being pieced together in public. It questioned why the two men would have killed themselves in a caravan when approached by the police rather than try to escape.
The explosion of the flat in Zwickau three hours later which left rubble filled with clues and evidence was also questioned. Zschäpe, who allegedly detonated the bomb that blew it up, would have had plenty of time to take the evidence and disappear, the paper said.
It also asked questions about the video – suggesting it could have been made back in 2007, as it contained no information about anything since then, and that this could have been held back to be used to direct any investigation if necessary.
After the discovery of bomb-making equipment in a garage rented by Zschäpe in 1998, the Police only failed to capture her and the two Uwes due to a two-day delay in releasing the search and arrest warrant, the paper said.
The Jena neo-Nazi Tino Brandt, a so-called V-man working for the Verfassungsschutz, met the trio several times until 2000 – and reported on the meetings to his intelligence service handler. But they were never stopped, the Frankfurter Rundschau reported.
While the questions remain unanswered, old cases are being reopened to see if the group could have been responsible for them too. The Süddeutsche Zeitung reported on Tuesday that a bomb attack in Cologne which seriously injured a German-Iranian woman in 2001 is being examined to see if there could be a connection.
Bild newspaper described Uwe Mundlos, the son of a university professor, as the "brains" of the cell with a soft side, often seen taking care of his wheelchair-bound brother.
But he had a portrait of Adolf Hitler's deputy Rudolf Hess hanging in his room that he drew himself and in his spare time he sometimes attended the trials of Holocaust deniers.
Uwe Böhnhardt was reportedly a more volatile type with a weakness for weapons. He liked to carry a dagger with him and friends told Bild he gave the straight-armed Hitler salute at every opportunity.
Details of the video found in the rubble of the flat – some copies packaged up and ready to send to authorities and media – are also being made public. An episode of the Pink Panther cartoon is used with inserts to brag of the killings the group claimed was theirs.
In one shot the Pink Panther is shown standing next to a sign reading "Germany Tour: Ninth Turk Shot Dead," while in other frames, one victim, still alive but apparently with a gun to his head, is seen wide-eyed with horror before he is shot.