Chaos over neo-Nazi murders

Fri, Jul 13, 2012, 01:00

GERMANY’S DOMESTIC intelligence service is in meltdown over its failure to track an underground neo-Nazi group behind a series of xenophobic killings.

Three intelligence chiefs have stood down as parliamentary probes have revealed institutional incompetence and in-fighting, but little investigation into the “National Socialist Underground” (NSU), exposed last November as the perpetrators of at least 10 murders of mostly Turkish immigrant shop-owners.

Pressure has been building since then, amid revelations that intelligence officers shredded crucial files and reportedly blocked investigations into alleged collusion with the neo-Nazi group.

The organisation of Germany’s domestic intelligence service or “offices for constitutional protection” reflects the country’s federal structure. Decentralised units operate in the federal states while their activities are co-ordinated by a federal intelligence office (BfV).

Last week the BfV head, Heinz Fromm, resigned after 12 years in office, followed by the eastern regional heads of Saxony and Thuringia, all toppled by a growing mountain of evidence incriminating the NSU that regional intelligence officers either ignored, overlooked or refused to share with colleagues in other states.

At a memorial service in February Chancellor Angela Merkel described the killings as a “disgrace” for Germany and ordered a full investigation. Several parallel inquiries have turned up a repeating pattern of inefficiencies and turf wars, prompting calls for the entire federal intelligence system to be abolished.

A parliamentary inquiry in the central state of Thuringia has thrown up particularly embarrassing testimony about Helmut Roewer, the state’s former intelligence chief with a penchant for walking around the offices in his bare feet when he wasn’t cycling through the corridors.

Mr Roewer told state MPs he couldn’t remember who recommended him for the top job, nor who handed him his official letter of appointment during an evening in a pub in 1994. “To be honest, I was drunk,” he said.

It was on Mr Roewer’s watch as Thuringia intelligence chief that three core members of the NSU – Uwe Mundlos, Uwe Böhnhardt und Beate Zschäpe – went underground and began planning their series of murders.

Starting in 2000, over the next 14 years they carried out at a campaign of least 10 killings as well as a 2004 nail-bomb attack in Cologne’s Turkish neighbourhood. Only after Mundlos and Böhnhardt bungled a bank robbery and killed themselves last November did intelligence officers realise the NSU existed, and had used the same gun in most of the killings.

Subsequent investigations have revealed a wealth of overlooked information into an NSU support network, ignored tip-offs from foreign intelligence services and even transcripts from wiretapped telephone calls related to the killings.

One intelligence officer, identified only as Andreas T, was reportedly present in an internet cafe in the western city of Kassel in April 2006 when Turkish employee Halit Yozgat was shot behind the counter.

Police suspect him of involvement in the killing but say the state intelligence service is blocking their investigation. The officer has admitted he was in the cafe’s back room during the killing, but said he heard nothing of the shooting and left without noticing the body.