Four years of Germany's worst neo-Nazi scandal

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Four years of Germany's worst neo-Nazi scandal
L-R: Core NSU members Beate Zschäpe, Uwe Böhnhardt and Uwe Mundlos. Photo: DPA

Four years ago, police finally uncovered the far-right group behind a series of grisly murders - but the story of the National Socialist Underground (NSU) is far from over.


In 2000, the so-called "Bosphorous Serial Murders" began to sweep Germany.

The series of murders saw members of the public shot dead in daylight hours by unknown gunmen, most at point-blank range with a silenced pistol.

Many attacks occurred while victims were at work in greengrocers, doner kebab shops or kiosks. Eight victims were of Turkish origin, one was Greek and one German.

The attackers were the National Socialist Underground, made up of core members Uwe Mundlos, Uwe Böhnhardt and Beate Zschäpe.

But at the time, police failed to link the murders together - or to right-wing extremism, let alone the NSU. 

It wasn't until a failed bank robbery in November 2011 that the group's neo-Nazi terror tactics finally came to an end.

The NSU trial: a timeline

4th November 2011:

Mundlos and Böhnhardt hold up a Sparkasse bank in Thuringia and leave with over €70,000. But as they flee, they are spotted - and later, police find the pair's caravan.

Surrounded by police, they commit suicide. According to a reconstruction, Mundlos shoots Böhnhardt in the temple, sets the vehicle alight and finally aims the gun into his own mouth.

The same day, the apartment in Zwickau where Mundlos and Böhnhardt had lived with Zschäpe is also set alight.

Police and fire-fighters surround the burning vehicle where Mundlos and Böhnhardt's bodies were found. Photo: DPA

8th November 2011:

Beate Zschäpe turns herself in as the group's third core member. She first tries to confess over the phone – but the officer who answers her call has no idea who she is, saying he knows nothing about the case.

Zschäpe later walks into the police station in Jena and is taken into custody.

11th November 2011:

Karlsruhe Federal Court relaunches an investigation into the murder of policewoman Michèle Kiesewetter in 2007. Kiesewetter was shot while sitting in a patrol car on her break with her partner.

While the rest of the 'Bosphorous murders' appeared to be racially motivated, Kiesewetter's German origin makes the reason for her murder unclear.

However, her duty pistol was found in the caravan where Mundlos and Böhnhardt died, suggesting her murder was connected to the other shootings.

Kiesewetter (top right) was one of ten victims of the NSU's murderous spree lasting from 2000 until 2007. Photo collection: DPA

13th November 2011:

The Federal Court issues an arrest warrant for Zschäpe.

By now, the NSU are also considered to be behind two bomb detonations in Cologne in 2001 and 2004, and at least 14 bank robberies.

27th January 2012:

After Federal Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich demands clarification about alleged mistakes police made during the murder investigations, a parliamentary inquiry begins work in Berlin, 

2nd July 2012:

Heinz Fromm, president of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, resigns as serious slip-ups made during the investigation come to light.

His resignation comes less than a week after it emerges that relevant documents were destroyed by the intelligence service after the NSU was exposed on November 4th.

24 March 2013:

The Bild am Sonntag reports that the NSU had a much larger network behind it than previously thought. 

Citing classified security authority documents, the newspaper reports that 129 members of the far-right scene aided the so-called National Socialist Underground (NSU) over the years.

6th May 2013:

The NSU trial begins in Munich, with Beate Zschäpe as the main defendant.

Ralf Wohlleben and Carsten Schultze are also on trial, accused of supplying the trio with a handgun and silencer.

Meanwhile, Andre Eminger is accused of being an accessory in two bank robberies and in the 2001 bombing in Cologne, and Holger Gerlach is accused of three counts of supporting a terrorist organization.

Zschäpe enters Munich's High Court on July 2nd 2013. Photo: DPA

22nd August 2013:

The NSU parliamentary enquiry submits its final report.

The 1,000 page report condemns previous police investigations into the group's activities - blaming a lack of co-ordination between authorities and failures to link the murders with racist groups.

Police falsely assumed the killers were immigrants, the report claims - an assumption based on institutional racism, which allowed the NSU to continue their killing spree for seven years.

The report labels the investigation  "a humiliating defeat for the German security and investigative agencies.”

16th July 2014:

Witness interrogations are put on hold after Beate Zschäpe announces she wants to dismiss her entire legal team.

Zschäpe asked to dismiss lawyers Anja Sturm, Wolfgang Heer and Wolfgang Stahl (L-R). Photo: DPA

27th August 2014: 

The German government announces new measures requiring police and courts to take tougher action against suspected hate crimes.

"We have the duty to do everything we can to ensure that such things never happen again," Justice Minister Heiko Maas says in a statement, referring to the NSU's extensive murder spree.

28th March 2015:

In the ongoing trial, Melissa M becomes the third witness to die under mysterious circumstances.

In September 2013, her boyfriend Florian Heilig was killed in a burning car hours before he was due to be questioned about the NSU, while in April 2014, 39-year-old Thomas Richter died in his apartment, allegedly from a sugar imbalance caused by undiagnosed diabetes.

Both Heilig and Richter were believed to have background information about the murder of Michèle Kiesewetter.

20th July 2015:

Zschäpe's defence team request to be released from their duty. However, the court rejects their plea.

2nd October:

The government announces a second parliamentary enquiry into the NSU case. The first session is planned for December.

The lawyers asked to step down as Zschäpe's defence. Photo: DPA

By Hannah Butler




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