German officials have admitted that widespread bias and racial profiling of ethnic Turks by German police and intelligence in the EU's most populous country may have helped a deadly neo-Nazi cell to operate under the radar for more than a decade.
Wolfgang Thierse, vice president of the Bundestag, the German parliament, from the main opposition Social Democratic Party (SPD), criticized German police and the Office for the Protection of the Constitution (OPC), Germany's domestic intelligence service, for acting with prejudice against immigrants, especially Turks, on Wednesday.
Talking to the visiting Turkish delegation at the Bundestag, Thierse said, “I have deep concerns that both the police force and the OPC may have acted with bias and prejudice in investigating the neo-Nazi murders between 2000 and 2007.” He was referring to killings by a neo-Nazi group, dubbed the Zwickau cell, that claimed the lives of 10 people, eight of them ethnic Turks and one a Greek immigrant. Police did not establish the link between the neo-Nazi group and the murders for almost a decade and instead looked into family feuds or organized crime as a motive, often suspecting the victims' families of complicity.
“We have to find out what happened and expose this bias to the public,” he vowed, adding that there was also a lack of cooperation between the police and the intelligence agency. “There seem to be terrible mistakes and gross negligence done on the part of security agencies,” the Bundestag's vice president claimed. Referring to the inquiry commission set up by Parliament, Thierse underlined that the main task of the commission is to look into whether or not the OPC failed to inform the Bundestag of the neo-Nazi terror cells.
A link to two neo-Nazi suspects, Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Böhnhardt, emerged by chance in November last year when the pair killed themselves after a botched bank robbery attempt. Their partner, Beate Zschäpe, set fire to their apartment and turned herself in. The wealth of evidence the police collected from the trio indicated that they were behind the so-called döner murders, named after the kebab sandwich associated with Turkish immigrants. Officials now say they were mistaken in their investigations.
Barbara John, ombudswoman representing the families of the victims of neo-Nazi terrorism and Berlin's former commissioner for foreigners, suggested two proposals in preventing racial profiling of Turks on Wednesday night during a meeting with the Turkish delegation of lawmakers looking into investigations of murders by German federal and state commissions. “If there is a criminal investigation that involves a foreigner in Germany, the authorities should proceed with an assumption that a hate crime involving a racists motive could have played a role in the crime,” she said.
The second proposal she suggested to German authorities was that the police should hire more immigrants to their ranks. There are some 3 million ethnic Turks living in Germany, the largest minority group. There are no statistics on how many police officers are from immigrant families, but officials estimate less than 1 percent of the entire German police force comes from immigrants. In states like Thuringia where the immigrants make up only 3 percent of the state population, they're almost non-existent. Interestingly enough, states with fewer minority ethnic groups are more open to neo-Nazi groups as the trio involved in the murders were all from Thuringia.
“It may have been that the residents in my state did not have information about other people, and some may be prone to neo-Nazi ideology. Most simply do not have any experience of interaction with other ethnic groups,” Jörg Geiber, the interior minister of Thuringia, said, calling for seminars and courses in schools teaching about diversity. “The policemen that had mishandled the neo-Nazi murder investigation did not have an immigrant as a neighbor or friend,” ombudswoman John said, adding that the only time the police come across an immigrant is when there is a crime involved.
The Zwickau neo-Nazi terror cell is also believed to have detonated a nail bomb in a Turkish neighborhood in Cologne in 2004, seriously wounding more than 20 people. John is also representing victims and families of this attack as well. She said the officials were quick to declare the bombing was a result of gangland warfare among the Turkish community, recalling the remarks of a Berlin interior minister who said that the incident was not a terrorist or extremist attack, “It would have been great embarrassment for the German state if it turned out to be a xenophobic attack at the time, John noted.
Perhaps that is why the German federal Parliament picked Sebastian Edathy, an SPD member of Parliament and the son of an immigrant from Kerala, India, as the chairman of a parliamentary inquiry into neo-Nazi terrorism. He told the Turkish lawmakers on Wednesday that the commission is not motivated by the idea of restoring the reputation of the German nation after the killings turned out be the work of racist group. “We will go wherever the evidence leads us and want to make sure it never happens again,” he vowed.
Edathy's comrade in the SPD and vice president of the Bundestag, Thierse also promised that the parliamentary commission will be very tough on the OPC and police force when calling on their representatives to testify. When he was asked if the OPC may have concerns that public disclosure may expose their informants in racist and extremist groups, compromising the intelligence agency's tactics, Thierse stated, “The opposition will not take into account the concerns of security agencies.” Stressing that they want to get to the bottom of this futile attempt to keep track of the neo-Nazi terror cell for 13 years, Thierse said the commission will find the link between the neo-Nazi organization and the racist National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD).