• Germany's news in English

Neo-Nazi murders expose institutional blind spot

Hannah Cleaver · 18 Nov 2011, 15:16

Published: 18 Nov 2011 15:16 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

While making a Hitler salute is illegal in Germany, it appears as if the self-styled National Socialist Underground (NSU) terrorist group could kill at will for more than a decade.

The neo-Nazi gang managed to remain unknown to the German authorities for 13 years, shooting dead nine immigrant shopkeepers and a policewoman, as well as injuring several more people with homemade explosives.

While local police wrongly suspected ethnic organised crime elements to be behind the murders, the country’s domestic intelligence service – the Verfassungsschutz – failed to avert the nationwide terror campaign despite identifying NSU members as active neo-Nazis who had been building bombs way back in 1998.

“I’ll admit that a few days ago it was impossible to imagine there could actually be such terrorist organisations, or that a cell could murder its way across the country,” German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich told public broadcaster ARD this week.

Speaking of a “new form” of far-right terrorism to hit Germany, he has called for a central database of known right-wing extremists and better coordination between the police and Verfassungsschutz.

While the details of how exactly which authority made which mistakes, a general lack of awareness, urgency and institutional inefficiency can certainly be detected throughout. These are almost identical charges to those made against German police forces and intelligence agencies after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 in the United States.

The measures taken afterwards, and the enormous emphasis placed on Islamist terrorism since, potentially obscured the threat from the German far-right. But they could also provide a good template for what needs to change in the fight against violent neo-Nazis, a terrorism expert at a southern German state Verfassungsschutz office told The Local.

He said a previous lack of communication between the intelligence services and police was tackled with alacrity via a national anti-terror centre.

“All 16 state police forces, all 16 state domestic intelligence offices, customs officials, the federal police and intelligence forces, they all send representatives there,” he said. “Such cooperation between the authorities would certainly be useful in the right-wing extremist area. It really bridged the gaps between the authorities.”

New approach needed

He said a fiery speech held in a mosque inciting people to violence would likely be picked up on and become part of an over-arching observation of the extreme Islamist scene – but a Hitler salute by a neo-Nazi would not necessarily be treated in the same way.

“Perhaps because the right-wing extremists drink beer and speak German, we think we can understand them,” the intelligence officer told The Local. “With the Islamists after 2001 it was different; we had to really adopt a new approach. But with the right-wing extremists that is perhaps also the case.”

The Verfassungsschutz man also emphasised that the immigrant shopkeeper murders were crimes – and thus for the police to investigate.

Yet the police are refusing to take responsibility for failing to connect the dots, blaming state and federal intelligence agencies for not telling them what they knew.

“There is no good cooperation, or no cooperation at all,” said Rainer Wendt, chairman of the German Police Union on Wednesday, accusing Verfassungsschutz officers of operating in secret.

“They don’t even tell each other what they are doing. I find that unworthy in a country with the rule of law,” he told Deutschlandfunk radio.

A re-think will almost certainly now be undertaken to determine whether the attention was directed on Islamist terrorism at the expense of focus on the far-right extremist scene.

And the operations against neo-Nazis may well have been too dependent on intelligence agencies paying far-right snitches for information, with suggestions that the extensive network of informers was delivering little of value – and indirectly funding far-right activities. The Verfassungsschutz office in the eastern state of Thuringia has been particularly singled out for failure.

The clamour of criticism has been getting louder as the extent of the authorities’ failures sink in.

On Thursday, Thomas Oppermann, a top Social Democratic MP and chairman of the parliamentary intelligence committee, said there had been “a systematic underestimation of right-wing extremism in Germany.”

Story continues below…

‘Carelessness, vacillation and neglect’

Speaking to the NDR radio station he said of the police as well as intelligence agencies, “One sees carelessness everywhere, one sees vacillation and neglect of duty.”

A recent police and intelligence agency focus on far-left extremism, particularly in the light of a lengthy series of arson attacks on cars in Berlin, is being held up as an illustration of the bias of officials still haunted by the leftist terrorism of the Red Army Faction in the 1970s and 1980s.

Bernd Wagner, a criminologist and expert on the far-right who founded the “Exit” group to help neo-Nazis leave the scene, said Germany needed to be more aware of the danger they pose.

“Every Nazi group certainly has the potential to form a violent cell which could operate in the underground,” he told public broadcaster ZDF.

“No snappy response from intelligence agencies can help, when they say everything is under control, and that our eyes and ears have everything covered. History is now telling us this is not the case.”

Hannah Cleaver (hannah.cleaver@thelocal.de)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

16:12 November 18, 2011 by nolibs
There is no blind spot. It is tragic that these men were murdered, but less than one murder per year on average over 13 years is not high enough to raise a red flag. The homicide rate in Germany was 2.601 last year alone, so someone please tell me how one death in that bucket is a blind spot?
18:21 November 18, 2011 by tdog1964
As the world war 2 generation is dying off. The younger generation does not understand about the Nazis like they should as the history has been swept under the rug . If it is illegal to do the nazi salute or show the swastika because of denaziation than maybe that is the problem. In the US we do not hide awaty from the confederate flag or the leaders of the confederacy.
20:06 November 18, 2011 by yuri_nahl
I read "30 police agencies missed this trend" (!) One drunk driver could have started a "trend" like this. This is a "Looking for Nazis under every wood pile trend",I think.. If Germans are concerned with "Racist killing of foreigners", pull your troops out of Afghanistan. One airstrike on a damaged fuel truck a while back... hundreds of dead brown people. Working to root out a Nazi problem sounds like easy work, because it is a not a big problem. Kind of like the "War on Drugs". It keeps authoritarian types busy. Makes the chumps think they are being taken care of. Gives the STASI a reason to increase their budget. Sounds like an attempt to squeeze the last few coins from the "Anti-Nazi" industry. There are always a few crazy people around.
22:59 November 18, 2011 by PhoenixW2
A supposed 'Institutional blind spot'. I hope this doesn't lead to the parallels of 'institutional racism' in the police that we have seen in the UK since the McPherson report.

You want to turn society upside down?
01:42 November 19, 2011 by liselott
I am old enough to know about the Kaiser-Hindenburg-HITLER-Adenauer-and thereafter.

The education the German youth got after the WW II, in keeping everything under the wrap about the part Germans played during Hitler,is now showing fruit with Neo

NAZIS today.

The lack of cooperation between the various state departments, ( Police-Verfasssungschutz-etc) the same happened in USA ( CIA-FBI-Statepolices-etc.)

with the result of the Trade Towers destruction and the fearcomplex of the USA

to day.

The German people and their Government seems to go the same way if they do not wake up.
06:34 November 19, 2011 by mclendoncpa
Comment removed by The Local for breach of our terms.
08:51 November 19, 2011 by mos101392
Quality of living has and will always play a role in who gets to be the scape goat game. We saw the NAZIS blame the Jews and now they are blaming the Turks. When times are bad, it feels better to blame someone else. Therefore they don't have to be ashamed of their own failures as human beings.
08:52 November 19, 2011 by Landmine
How much more time is going to be given to this issue of Neo Nazis? Seems like that is all the Local writes about nowadays...
10:25 November 19, 2011 by HelloOutThere
@ Landmine: This is almost exactly what I thought - with the difference that maybe for a change thelocal.de could write an arcticle about the group of people in Jena who successfully fought against Neo Nazis.
11:11 November 19, 2011 by nolibs
@Landmine - TheLocal does have an agenda. Stick around here long enough and you'll see it in the articles they post and how they censor what is written.

For example, there was a pretty good discussion on "Criticism for return of radio host on 'Holocaust denial' row" (http://www.thelocal.de/article.php?ID=38917), and how preventing discussion on the Jewish holocaust is not healthy in a free world. However, all the comments were deleted.

This also happened with "A dual citizenship double standard in Germany" (http://www.thelocal.de/opinion/20111026-38467.html). There was a huge discussion, with even the local's editor adding to the discussion; however, he also said that he didn't like some of the comments and would shut down it down if it continued. Next time I looked, everything was deleted.
12:11 November 19, 2011 by So36
I saw that thread, there were comments denying the Holocaust on it which is illegal in Germany. And as if a guy using the moniker "nolibs" doesn't have an agenda. Pretty laughable.
12:34 November 19, 2011 by nolibs
@So36 - Actually, I copied all the comments before they were deleted (kind of saw it coming), and with the exception of comment #2 on that thread which was already censored by TheLocal, none of those denied the holocaust. Some wondered if there was something to hide by preventing discussion, but that's not denial. Likewise, post #9 was a bit harsh, but nothing was stated that denied the holocaust.

The basic premise of the discussion was, whether you agree with what we've been told about the holocaust or not, the sheer fact that a single sentence sent privately (by the radio host for example) is enough to cause someone to be suspended from their jobs (more often fired), should be enough to scare everyone who cherishes freedom.
15:19 November 19, 2011 by Bruno53
No excuse. You know you got plenty of remorseless nazis in your midst. Any wonder why I don't trust most Germans, with some exceptions?
20:19 November 20, 2011 by raandy
Bruno53 You know what Winston Churchill said about the Germans "They are either at your feet or at your throat "
21:26 November 20, 2011 by DickShawnsDiction
"Germany¦#39;s law-enforcement and intelligence authorities are scrambling for answers after a neo-Nazi terrorist cell murdered at least ten people."

Silly me. I assumed it was because the Police are thoroughly infiltrated with... erm... .
16:00 November 21, 2011 by Bruno53
I would never make a comment like the one made by Sir Churchill once. Anyway, remember meeting my first German, a lady doctor, a certain Dr Werner of Frankfurt in the island of Puerto Rico. very nice and kind. I admire the Germany that gave us a Johann Sebastian Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven or Johannes Brahms. +
16:07 January 27, 2012 by Englishted

You may have made that comment like Churchill if you had had to fight to wars against them in 30 years.

Ludwig van Beethoven and the little corporal were Austrian in fact.
Today's headlines
The Local List
Germany's top 10 most surreal sites to visit
The Upside-Down House, in Mecklenburg–Western Pomerania. Photo: Olaf Meister / Wikimedia Commons

From upside-down houses on Baltic islands to a fairy-tale castle near the Austrian border, Germany is a treasure trove of the extraordinary.

Bavarian critics back Merkel for Chancellor again
Photo: DPA

The Christian Social Union (CSU) have long delayed backing Angela Merkel as their candidate for Chancellor in next year's general election. But now key leaders are supporting her publicly.

Four taken to hospital after hotel toilet bursts into flames
File photo: DPA.

Four guests at a Nuremberg hotel were taken to hospital due to smoke inhalation early Monday morning after a toilet there burst into flames.

Creepy clown scare spreads to Germany
Two of the clowns were apparently equipped with chainsaws. Photo: Pedro Pardo / AFP file picture

Police said Friday five incidents involving so-called scary clowns had occurred in two north German towns, including one assailant who hit a man with a baseball bat, amid fears that Halloween could spark a rash of similar attacks.

Student fined for spying on women via their webcams
Photo: DPA

Student from Munich fined €1,000 for spying on 32 different computers, using their webcams to take photographs, or record their keyboard history.

This is how much startup geeks earn in Germany
Photo: DPA

A comprehensive new survey of 143 startup founders shows how much you are likely to be earning at a German startup, from entry level all the way up to sitting on the board.

Man dies after beating for peeing near Freiburg church
The Johannes Church in Freiburg. Photo Jörgens Mi/Wikipedia

A middle-aged man from southern Germany has died after being attacked by a group of men who took umbrage with the fact he was urinating in the vicinity of a church.

The Local List
Seven German celebrities with uncanny doppelgängers
Former Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit and actor Alec Baldwin. Photo: DPA; Gage Skidmore, Wikimedia Commons

Check out these seven look-a-likes of well known German figures - we admit that some are more tenuous than others...

Israel seeks to buy three new German submarines: report
A Dolphin class submarine. Photo: DPA

Israel is seeking to buy three more advanced submarines from Germany at a combined price of €1.2 billion, an Israeli newspaper reported Friday.

Here’s where people live the longest in Germany
Photo: DPA

Germans down south seem to know the secret to a long life.

10 things you never knew about socialist East Germany
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
How Germans fell in love with America's favourite squash
How I ditched London for Berlin and became a published author
12 clever German idioms that'll make you sound like a pro
23 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
9 unmissable events to check out in Germany this October
10 things you never knew about German reunification
10 things you're sure to notice after an Oktoberfest visit
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
10 German films you have to watch before you die
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd