Germany must come clean on neo-Nazi murders

I was embedded this week with a delegation of Turkish members of Parliament that »»

I was embedded this week with a delegation of Turkish members of Parliament that was invited by the German government to have talks with officials about how the investigations into the neo-Nazi murders of 10 people, eight of them ethnic Turks, have been coming along. The visit came on the heels of the Turkish Parliament's Human Rights Commission's appearance in Berlin back in February to look into these murders as well. German officials seem to have understood well that the stakes are huge for the reputation of Germany in these previously unsolved murders, apparently committed by a neo-Nazi cell that had long operated under the noses of German intelligence and police forces.

There is still a disbelief and shock among the some 3 million ethnic Turks living in Germany, and they are clearly worried that the commissions set up to investigate the mistakes and negligence on the part of authorities will simply whitewash the real culprits behind these heinous hate crimes while handing down punishments for a few fall guys. They have good reason to be concerned. Though there has been compelling evidence suggesting that the killings of nine immigrants and one national police woman between 2000 and 2007 were the work of a racist group, most likely a neo-Nazi terror gang, German officials had looked the other way. Instead, investigations had immediately focused on family members and relatives, looking for clues into family feuds, mafia links, drugs and infidelity claims, and further victimizing the grieving Turkish citizens living in Germany.

There were more questions than answers in the minds of the Turkish delegation members when the visit was concluded on Friday. Tunca Toskay, the veteran politician from the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) who headed the delegation, warned that Germany may risk losing the trust and confidence of the entire Turkish community, the largest immigrant group in the EU's most populous country, if the investigations fail to soothe lingering concerns among Turks. He asked for concrete actions from the German deputies and government officials to address the root causes behind the rising xenophobia and Islamophobia in Germany.

From the talks we had with German officials both at the state and federal level, we were assured that there will be no stone left unturned to find out what really happened during the past 13 years, during which German intelligence allegedly lost track of the deadly neo-Nazi cell that went into hiding in 1998. Some of them openly admitted that behind the colossal failure of the security and judicial criminal apparatus to spot the neo-Nazi pattern in these murders actually laid a much more serious problem: a rampant prejudice and overriding bias in the police force as well as in the German intelligence services against other ethnic groups in the country. The fact that less than 1 percent of the entire police force is composed of German nationals from immigrant backgrounds tells a lot.

For example, in November 2011, it was revealed that the Hessen branch of the domestic intelligence service, the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (BfV), admitted one of its agents had actually been present in April 2006 when two members of the neo-Nazi group called the National Socialist Underground (NSU) shot dead a 21-year-old Turk in an Internet cafe. The agent openly held right-wing views and was avid reader of “Mein Kampf.” He was also known in the neighborhood where he grew up as "Little Adolf." There were also unconfirmed reports the man was present at three or more other neo-Nazi murder scenes, fueling suspicions that authorities may have very well turned a blind eye to the group's activities.

There were also conflicting accounts given by different officials that perplexed the visiting Turkish parliamentarians. For example, an inquiry commission member in the eastern state of Thuringia, where the neo-Nazi cell was based, said FBI criminal specialists warned in 2007 that these serial murders fit the profile of a xenophobic group that hates immigrants and advised authorities to look into extremist groups like neo-Nazis. The commission member's explanation was flat-out rejected by the interior minister of the state, who said the claim had nothing to do with the truth.

During the hearing of the inquiry commission at the Federal Parliament (Bundestag) on Thursday, Turkish deputies witnessed a heated exchange between MP Sebastian Edathy, the chairman of the commission, who is of Indian origin, and the former chief prosecutor of Nuremberg-Fürth, Walter Kimmel, who was tasked to lead the investigation into the murders that happened in the state of Bavaria. Kimmel denied claims that he kept the case from federal prosecutors and the federal criminal police force by treating the murders as isolated incidents that had no connection with neo-Nazi terror. Edathy challenged Kimmel when he exposed the records of the Bosporus commission (set up in Bavaria to look into these murders in 2005 and disbanded in 2008), saying that, in fact, Kimmel himself had balked at the idea of turning the case files over to federal prosecutors. It is obvious that a lot of blame is going around on who dropped the ball on these murders.

Though eight victims of the neo-Nazi terror were Turks and one was Greek in this decade-long case, the rising extremist ideology in Germany poses a grave risk to all people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds. A hit list with the names of 88 people found during the investigation included a Jewish lawmaker named Jerzy Montag, a Polish-born member of parliament for the Greens, as well as representatives of Turkish and Islamic groups in Germany. The fact that the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) continues to report there have been a series of attacks on Muslims in Germany by the extremist right since November of last year, when the police discovered the neo-Nazi cell NSU, indicate that the problem is not just limited to Turks living in Germany.

Many fear today that the classical explanation on the rising of the far right by attributing the trend to voter concerns about social security programs, unemployment, immigration and Islamophobia does not give a full picture of what is really going on in Germany. They suspect that white supremacist and German nationalist ideology, the backbone of the Nazi manifesto that led to the extermination of some 6 million Jews during World War II in Germany, carried on today by neo-Nazi groups, may be catching fire again, especially among the youth. Racist attacks by neo-Nazis who target foreigners or anyone who appears foreign are on the rise according to Germany's Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution. In Nuremberg alone, there were more than 50 attacks between November 2011 and April 2012. Even American and other European citizens in Germany report that they have been subject to racial attacks and abuse because they appeared to be foreign as well.

There is no doubt that right-wing extremism in Germany will remain a cause of grave concern for many countries, including Turkey, Israel and the US, that want to make sure their nationals can live in Germany without fear of being subjected to neo-Nazi terror. The fact that some 40,000 Turks, many of whom are well-educated and have promising careers, decided last year to permanently leave Germany and resettle in Turkey should ring alarm bells for German authorities. Considering that Germany will end up with a much smaller labor force by 2050 with the current demographic trend, Berlin must make sure that Germany continue to be a welcoming place for talented foreigners. That is why it is vitally important for inquiry commissions to find out what really happened in the murders of nine immigrants. The real culprits must be severely punished, while any official who had shown negligence or malicious intent to derail past investigations must be made such an example of to send an unambiguous message that neo-Nazi ideology will not be tolerated in a modern Germany.