Beate Zschäpe goes on trial in biggest German terrorist case in decades

Over 600 witnesses to be called in neo-Nazi trial likely to last more than two years

 Defendant Beate Zschäpe stands in court with her legal team on the opening day of the NSU neo-Nazi murder trial in Munich, Germany.  Photograph:  Joerg Koch/Getty Images

Defendant Beate Zschäpe stands in court with her legal team on the opening day of the NSU neo-Nazi murder trial in Munich, Germany. Photograph: Joerg Koch/Getty Images



With her arms folded, a smiling Beate Zschäpe strode quickly into a tightly guarded Munich courtroom yesterday to answer to murder and terrorism charges in Germany’s biggest neo-Nazi trial for decades.

Dressed in a black suit and white blouse, the 38-year-old turned her back on the courtroom photographers and the relatives of nine men and one woman shot dead by the National Socialist Underground (NSU) group.

Two of Ms Zschäpe’s friends and alleged NSU accomplices killed themselves in November 2011 after a botched bank robbery and, four days later, Ms Zschäpe turned herself in to police. She is accused of membership of a terrorist organisation and of helping plan, though not carry out, two bombings and the shootings of eight Turkish men, one Greek-born man and a German policewoman over seven years to 2007.

Ms Zschäpe denies any involvement in the NSU crimes and is unlikely to speak during the trial. Also on trial for allegedly supporting the trio are: Ralf Wohlleben (38) and Carsten Schultze (33), accused of supplying guns to the NSU; Andre Eminger (33) is accused of assisting with bank robberies to finance the NSU; Holger Gerlach (39) is accused of supplying money, passports and weapons.

Legal challenges
The trial is the biggest terrorist court case since those against the far-left Red Army Faction almost 40 years ago. More than 600 witnesses will be called and the trial is likely to last over two years. It began after a three-week delay after legal challenges from Turkish media organisations excluded from proceedings.

Ms Zschäpe’s defence lawyers mounted technical challenges to proceedings, accusing the five-judge court of bias for demanding that they – but not the prosecution – submit to full body searches before entering the court. Last week they expressed doubt as to whether Ms Zschäpe, dubbed the “Nazi Bride” by Germany’s tabloid media, had a chance of having a fair trial.

While 10 police officers watched her every move in court, more than 500 security officers surrounded Munich’s district court building to monitor six separate protests accusing German investigators of institutional racism for presuming that the killings had their origins in criminal gangs among the migrant community.

More than 1,000 protesters gathered, some holding pictures of the NSU victims, others releasing black balloons into the air.

‘Pay for the murders’
Two held a poster reading, “Hitler Child Zschäpe will will have to pay for the murders”.

Three young Turkish-German women of were prevented by police from entering the courtroom. Two middle-aged Turkish men living in Munich waited through the night to secure one of 50 seats in court for members of the public.

Some 23 relatives of the NSU victims were in court for proceedings, including Ismail Yozgat, whose 21-year-old son Halit was the last NSU victim, shot dead in an internet cafe in Kassel in 2006.

“I hope that the trial will run well,” said Mr Yozgat. “I believe in Germany justice and I don’t think I will be disappointed.”