Probe launched after German memorial to neo-Nazi murder victim torn down

A tree planted to commemorate a victim of the neo-Nazi Nationalist Socialist Underground (NSU) group has been sawed down in the eastern German city of Zwickau.

Probe launched after German memorial to neo-Nazi murder victim torn down
The memorial tree was vandalised in Zwickau. Photo: City of Zwickau/DPA

The oak tree was planted on September 8th in a public park in Zwickau, ear the Polish border, in memory of Enver Şimşek, a flower seller of Turkish heritage who was killed by the far-right National Socialist Underground (NSU) in 2000 during a series of racist attacks.

Authorities have launched an investigation. City mayor Pia Findeiß, of the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), expressed her dismay in a statement about the destruction. “This heinous act is more than mere damage to property,” she said.

“The sawing down of the tree shows intolerance, a lack of understanding of democracy and contempt for terror victims and their relatives.”

Last year the only known surviving member of the NSU terror cell was sentenced to life in prison.

Beate Zschäpe, 43, was found guilty of 10 counts of murder for her complicity in the deadly shootings of nine Turkish and Greek-born immigrants and a German policewoman.

READ ALSO: Neo-Nazi terror verdict: Zschäpe found guilty of 10 murders

Zschäpe and her former lovers Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Böhnhardt had formed the militant clandestine group they called the NSU.

The trio carried out the killings from 2000 and 2007, as well as two bombings and 15 bank robberies, before the two men died in an apparent suicide pact after a bungled bank heist in 2011.

Şimşek was the first of the murder victims. Nine more trees have been planned for the other NSU victims.

Germany, which has long struggled to atone for its Nazi past, was shocked to learn that the series of killings, previously blamed by police on immigrant crime gangs, had in fact been committed by organized fascists from the country's formerly communist east.

At the time of the trial, relatives of the victims raised fears that accomplices were still out there.

The NSU murders and the resulting court case led to accusations that German authorities had repeatedly failed to take the threat of far-right violence seriously.

The group was uncovered effectively by chance in 2011, when its ringleaders botched a bank robbery and led police to them.

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German police arrest ‘NSU 2.0’ suspect over neo-Nazi threats

German police have arrested a man they suspect of sending threatening letters inspired by a shadowy neo-Nazi cell that committed a string of racist murders in the 2000s, prosecutors said Tuesday.

German police arrest 'NSU 2.0' suspect over neo-Nazi threats
At a rally in Wiesbaden in July 2020, a protester holds a sign that says: Solidarity with those affected by NSU 2.0”. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Arne Dedert

The 53-year-old unemployed German national had been convicted in the past of crimes linked to the far right, the prosecutor’s office for the western city of Frankfurt said.

He is “strongly suspected” of having sent, since August 2018, a series “of threatening letters with hateful, insulting and threatening content” under the pseudonym “NSU 2.0”, the prosecutor said.

The name refers to the National Socialist Underground, a neo-Nazi extremist group uncovered in 2011 that murdered 10 people and planted three bombs.

The letters were mainly addressed to public officials, notably members of the federal parliament and that of the Hesse region.

Investigators had initially suspected that the man was linked to the police themselves, as information on the people threatened had been collected from police stations.

But prosecutors said the person detained was not a police officer. The suspect was taken into custody at his Berlin apartment during a search.

READ ALSO: Fears over Germany’s far-right grow after Halle attack

The assassination in June 2019 of pro-migration politician Walter Lübcke shocked the country and highlighted the growing threat of right-wing extremism.

Previously, the NSU was able to carry out the murders of eight Turkish immigrants, a Greek and a German policewoman as investigators focused their probe in error on members of Germany’s immigrant communities.