MUNICH — A German court on Wednesday found the main defendant in a high-profile neo-Nazi trial guilty over the killing of 10 people — most of them migrants — who were gunned down between 2000 and 2007 in a case that shocked Germany and prompted accusations of institutional racism in the country’s security agencies.
Judges sentenced Beate Zschaepe to life in prison for murder, membership of a terrorist organization, bomb attacks that injured dozens and several lesser crimes including a string of robberies. Four men were found guilty of supporting the group in various ways and sentenced to prison terms of between 2 1/2 and 10 years.
Presiding judge Manfred Goetzl told a packed Munich courtroom that Zschaepe’s guilt weighed particularly heavily, meaning she is likely to serve at least a 15-year sentence. Her lawyers plan to appeal the verdict.
The 43-year-old showed no emotion as Goetzl read out her sentence. A number of far-right activists attending the trial clapped when one the co-accused, Andre Eminger, received a lower sentence than expected.
Zschaepe was arrested in 2011, shortly after her two accomplices were found dead in an apparent murder-suicide. Together with the men, Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Boehnhardt, she had formed the National Socialist Underground, a group that pursued an ideology of white racial supremacy by targeting migrants, mostly of Turkish origin.
Lawyer Hermann Borchert (L) and defendant Beate Zschaepe wait in a Munich courtroom before the proclamation of sentence in her trial as the only surviving member of neo-Nazi cell National Socialist Underground (NSU) behind a string of racist murders, in Munich, Germany, on July 11, 2018.
Goetzl said the trio agreed in late 1998 to kill people “for anti-Semitic or other racist motivations” in order to intimidate ethnic minorities and portray the state as impotent.
They planned to wait until they had committed a series of killings before revealing their responsibility, in order to increase the public impact of their crimes.
Goetzl said Zschaepe’s contribution was “essential for carrying out the robberies and attacks,” which couldn’t have happened without her.
Known by its acronym NSU, the group evaded arrest for almost 14 years, thanks to a network of supporters and repeated mistakes by German security agencies.
Anti-migrant sentiment that underpinned the group’s ideology was particularly strong in eastern Germany during the early 1990s, when Mundlos, Boehnhardt and Zschaepe were in their late teens and early 20s. The period saw a string of attacks against migrants and the rise of far-right parties.
Defendant Beate Zschaepe, co-defendants and legal teams wait at Oberlandesgericht courthouse on the day judges are to announce their verdict in the marathon NSU neo-Nazi murder trial on July 11, 2018 in Munich, Germany.
Anti-racism campaigners have drawn parallels between that period and the violence directed toward asylum-seekers in Germany in recent years, which has seen the emergence of the far-right Alternative for Germany party.
The case against Zschaepe hinged heavily on the question of whether judges would hold her equally as culpable for the killings as her two dead accomplices, even though there was no evidence she had been …read more