A couple of days ago I opened my local newspaper here in Reno and turned to the “Nation & World” section. Wow! A huge headline jumped out at me: “Germany links serial killings to neo-Nazi sympathizers: Turks are outraged by slow action.” The Reno Gazette-Journal rarely contains any news from Germany, but there it was – in bold print and with color photos!
I had been following this story in the German media for some time, but I was really surprised to see it so prominently displayed in an American newspaper, much less in my local paper, covering almost half the page. Labeled “Special for USA TODAY,” with a byline for Ruby Russell, the story began: “BERLIN – The first to die was Enver Simsek, 38, a flower vendor shot in the face in Nuremberg in 2000. The last was Halit Yozgat, 21, shot in the head in the Internet café he ran in Kassel, six years later.”
During the intervening years, seven other people, all Turks except for one Greek, were murdered in cities scattered across Germany – without German law enforcement solving any of the violent crimes. German police, including the BKA, Germany’s equivalent of the FBI, didn’t even realize they were dealing with a serial killer or killers until after the fifth murder! And they never came close to solving the crimes at all until two of the criminals revealed evidence by killing themselves in November 2011. A single Czech CZ 83 pistol was used in all the murders, an important clue that was apparently long ignored. It isn’t just Turks in Germany who are angry and shaking their heads over police bungling in this case.
Many in Germany and abroad are now asking how the German police could have been so blind to the obvious motive in a chain of nine killings that targeted only non-Germans. Law enforcement, including a special commission, seemed intent on insisting that the crimes had to involve (Turkish) money laundering, (Turkish) drug syndicates, or vengeful (Turkish) relatives – focusing on almost anything other than the possibility of right-wing, anti-foreigner terrorism. (The German media gladly went along with such biased theories.) And that was despite the fact that German law enforcement agencies had long been aware of such neo-Nazi groups, and had even infiltrated these openly anti-immigrant and anti-foreigner organizations. The very neo-Nazis who allegedly committed the murders were known to the police, and were wanted for bombings as far back as 1998.
Yet Uwe Böhnhardt, Uwe Mundlos and their girlfriend Beate Zschäpe managed to evade the police for 13 years – after 10 murders (including a policewoman), 14 bank robberies and at least three bombings. The more details that become known, the more one has to wonder how these neo-Nazi terrorists never came under suspicion until the two men committed murder-suicide after a bank robbery, and Zschäpe set fire to their house in Zwickau in a vain attempt to hide evidence. (Zwickau is in the state of Saxony, where the far-right NPD party currently holds eight seats in the state parliament.)
How complicit were the state secret police (LfV) in Thuringia, the home state of the three known neo-Nazis? The eastern German state of Thuringia is known as a hotbed of right-wing crime. There were 1,257 reported right-wing extremist crimes there between 1993 and 1995. Right-wing “informants” in Thuringia used the money they received from the government to further build up their right-wing groups. Were the LfV people really incompetent or did they intentionally interfere with the investigation, as some have claimed?
Calling themselves the National Socialist Underground (NSU), the three fugitives could only have eluded capture because the police allowed it – intentionally or otherwise. Zschäpe alone will soon go on trial for arson and terrorism, in a case that can only highlight police ineptness and/or a cover-up. The three-million-strong German Turkish community can only ask why it took so long, and why Turks were further victimized by police investigators who kept trying to blame Turks for crimes committed by native German neo-Nazis.
Some commentators have theorized that German authorities were blind to the neo-Nazi, extreme-right connection because – consciously or unconsciously – they did not want Germany to look bad to the outside world. That really has not worked out so well, has it? Now Germany and German law enforcement look like bumbling fools blinded by bigotry. And now there are “German neo-Nazi” stories in my local US newspaper. That could have been avoided by better police work and a willingness to face home-grown neo-Nazi terrorism in Germany head on.