Neo-Nazi murders: Beate Zschaepe goes on trial in Germany

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Media captionMs Zschaepe's trial is part of a wider issue that has gripped Germany

An alleged member of a German neo-Nazi cell has gone on trial in Munich in connection with a series of racially motivated murders.

Beate Zschaepe, 38, is accused of being part of the National Socialist Underground (NSU), which killed 10 people, most of them of Turkish origin.

She denies the murder charges. Critics say the police made serious errors.

The judge later adjourned the trial for a week after the defence team accused the judge of bias.

After entering court, Ms Zschaepe stood with folded arms and turned her back on the camera.

Her lawyers lodged a legal complaint with the judge, accusing him of bias. They complained about being searched for possible weapons or other objects on arrival, while prosecutors and police were not. The judge ordered an adjournment until 14 May to consider the complaint.

The NSU case sparked controversy as police wrongly blamed the Turkish mafia before discovering the far-right cell.

The head of Germany's domestic intelligence service was eventually forced to resign over the scandal. It also emerged that intelligence files on far-right extremists were destroyed after the cell's activities came to light.

Four male defendants are also on trial with Ms Zschaepe, facing lesser charges of having helped the NSU.

She faces life in prison if convicted.

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Media captionThis police video shows alleged neo-Nazi Beate Zschaepe in an identity parade.

Critics have accused authorities of turning a blind eye to the crimes of right-wing extremists, the BBC's Steve Evans reports from Munich.

Officials deny this, saying mistakes occurred because the murders were spread across different regions, each with different police and security agencies.

The killings took place over a seven-year period, and none of the victims or locations was high-profile.

Execution-style killings

Ethnic Turkish community groups and anti-racism campaigners demonstrated outside the courthouse on Monday, demanding justice. Some suspect the police of institutional racism which may have helped the neo-Nazis to act with impunity, our correspondent says.

Before the trial got under way a large crowd of journalists had gathered outside, along with dozens of people hoping to get seats in the court. About 500 police officers were deployed and nearby streets were cordoned off.

Ms Zschaepe, as a founding member of the NSU, is charged with complicity in the murders of eight ethnic Turks, a Greek immigrant and a German policewoman between 2000 and 2007.

She is also accused of involvement in 15 armed robberies, of arson, and of attempted murder via two bomb attacks.

Prosecutors say the aim of the execution-style killings was to spread fear among immigrants and prompt them to leave Germany.

Her lawyers say she is refusing to speak in court. Only the trial opening was broadcast, in line with German legal restrictions.

The four male defendants are:

  • Ralf Wohlleben, 38, and Carsten Schultze, 33, accused of being accessories to murder in the killing of the nine men - they allegedly supplied weapons and silencers
  • Andre Eminger, 33, accused of being an accessory in two of the bank robberies, in the 2004 nail bombing in Cologne's old town that injured 22 people, and two counts of supporting a terrorist organisation
  • Holger Gerlach, 39, faces three counts of supporting a terrorist organisation.

The NSU cell remained undetected until Ms Zschaepe gave herself up in November 2011, after police discovered the bodies of two of her alleged accomplices.

Uwe Mundlos, 38, and Uwe Boenhardt, 34, appeared to have shot themselves after a botched bank robbery.

After their deaths, the gun used in the murders of the 10 people was discovered.

Ms Zschaepe shared a flat in Zwickau, in the old East Germany, with the two men who were found shot dead.

The arson charge against her relates to a fire which she is alleged to have started in the flat before giving herself up. She told police she was the one they were looking for.

In addition, a video emerged showing pictures of the corpses of the victims and identifying the "organisation" behind the murders as the NSU. The video had a cartoon Pink Panther totting up the number of dead.

Image caption Uwe Mundlos, Beate Zschaepe and Uwe Boehnhardt were believed to be the cell's only members

Only then did the authorities conclude that the killings were the work of neo-Nazis.

They had previously treated some of the families of the victims as suspects in their murders.

As a result, the trial has taken on a meaning beyond the charges in court, as it is also puts the spotlight on attitudes towards the murder of members of ethnic minority groups, our correspondent says.

An earlier start date had been set for the trial, but it was delayed for weeks amid a dispute about the seat allocations, as Turkish media were not guaranteed places.

Turkish media have now been given four seats, but several leading German newspapers missed out in the lottery, AFP news agency reports.

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