x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Turkey raises concerns about German neo-Nazi trial

Members of gang accused of killing eight Turks between 2000 and 2006.

Beate Zschaepe, right, is accused of being a member of the neo-Nazi group National Socialist Underground, along with Uwe Boehnhardt, left. Reuters
Beate Zschaepe, right, is accused of being a member of the neo-Nazi group National Socialist Underground, along with Uwe Boehnhardt, left. Reuters

ISTANBUL // Turkey has raised concerns about the impartiality of a German court in a landmark trial of a neo-Nazi gang accused of killing eight Turks under the noses of Germany's intelligence services.

On Monday, the higher state court in Munich is to start proceedings against Beate Zschape, 38, the sole survivor of a militant cell named National Socialist Underground (NSU), and four suspected accomplices of the group.

German prosecutors say the NSU killed a Greek and eight Turkish immigrants between 2000 and 2006, as well as a German policewoman in 2007. The killers supposedly mistook the Greek victim for a Turk.

The trial was delayed after Germany's top court last month ordered judges in Munich to allow the attendance of Turkish media, which they initially failed to do.

In Turkey, memories of earlier far-right arson attacks that killed half a dozen Turks in Germany in the 1990s are still fresh. Ankara says Germany is not doing enough to combat xenophobia and Islamophobia directed at the three million Turks and Turkish-born Germans in the country.

"We have doubts about the objectivity of the court's president," Bekir Bozdag, Turkey's deputy prime minister in charge of its expatriate community, was quoted as saying this week by the Anadolu news agency.

Mr Bozdag said earlier that the Munich court was "finished" as far as he was concerned, because the presiding judge, Manfred Gotzl, had opted for a press accreditation procedure that led to the exclusion of Turkish media. The court also refused to reserve seats for Turkish officials in the court room.

"Those decisions have thrown a shadow over the trial," Mr Bozdag said this week.

The court's approach heightened Turkish concerns about the NSU case, which exposed bungled investigations by German authorities and a perceived disregard for the far-right threat by law enforcement agencies.

As a result, Turkish politicians are determined to watch the trial closely.

Ayhan Sefer Ustun, chairman of the Turkish parliament's human rights committee, said yesterday he would travel to Munich with three other members of the panel, even though it remains unclear whether they would be able to get into the court room. Huseyin Avni Karslioglu, Turkey's ambassador to Germany, is also planning to be at the court on Monday.

"Germany will have to accept that racism has spread," Mr Ustun said by telephone yesterday. "At the moment, I don't see this acceptance in Germany."

In the NSU case, police assumed for years that the Turks and the Greek were victims of conflicts within the immigrant community and did not investigate radical right-wing groups. Police also failed to solve the killing of the policewoman.

The NSU involvement came to light only after two cell members, Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Bohnhardt, committed suicide when cornered by police after they robbed a bank in November 2011. Weapons found by police later linked the NSU to the 10 killings.

Ms Zschape is accused of blowing up the house she lived in with the two men. She gave herself up and faces life in prison if convicted.

In the meantime, authorities conceded that intelligence services were aware of the NSU members and that one agent was present during the fatal shooting of one of the Turks. Some intelligence files dealing with far-right groups were shredded before they could be probed by a parliamentary committee of inquiry last year.

In Turkey, the initial exclusion of Turkish media from the trial of a case that had already exposed German weaknesses in dealing with radical-right militants fuelled concerns of a cover-up of links between the NSU and the German security apparatus.

"Events have given way to a serious loss of trust" on the part of the Turkish community in Germany, Mr Ustun said in an interview last month.

This week, Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, felt the need to step in to limit the damage.

"I feel this is a shame for our country," Ms Merkel told the Turkish daily Hurriyet, referring to the NSU case. "I assure you that the German state of law will do everything to shed light on these crimes from all directions and to hand down the right punishments to the perpetrators."

Ismail Erel, deputy editor of Sabah Avrupa, a Turkish daily tailored to readers in Europe, said Germany's responsibility went beyond the trial.

Mr Erel's newspaper turned to Germany's constitutional court last month after Turkish media were excluded by the Munich court. After the constitutional court said Turkish reporters should be given access, Sabah Avrupa and three other Turkish media were given permission to be represented in the court room.

"That shows you can trust the German judiciary," Mr Erel said by telephone this week. He added he did not expect the court in Munich to dig very deeply into possible connections between the NSU and German intelligence services.

"That would be asking too much," Mr Erel said. But investigations by Germany's parliament and by the police should continue. "If it is being said that all those files had been destroyed by coincidence, no one can expect people to believe that," he said.

tseibert@thenational.ae