Nov. 14 (Bloomberg) -- German authorities widened a probe into an underground neo-Nazi cell accused of a series of murders over the last decade, in what Chancellor Angela Merkel called a “disgrace for Germany.”
A suspect, identified as 37-year-old Holger G., was taken into custody yesterday near Hanover, Germany, and is accused of having ties to a group calling itself the “National Socialist Underground,” federal prosecutors said in a statement. Officials raised the specter of a terrorist threat.
“Right-wing terror is shameful -- a disgrace for Germany - - and we will do everything to get to the bottom of this affair,” Merkel told delegates of her Christian Democratic Union today in a party conference speech in Leipzig.
German investigators believe that the cell is responsible for at least 10 murders across the country from 2000 to 2006, in which eight people of Turkish origin as well as a Greek man were killed, they said after the weekend arrest. The NSU is also tied to an attack on two police officers in the western city of Heilbronn in 2007 that left a policewoman dead.
German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich called the development a “new dimension of right-wing violence,” according to an interview in Bild newspaper. He referred to the proliferation of extremist nationalist groups in the eastern German state of Thuringia.
The murders took place in cities such as Nuremberg, Munich, Hamburg and Dortmund and targeted mostly men with an immigrant background, such as kebab-stand and shop owners. The crimes, including the fatal shooting of the 22-year-old policewoman, have remained unsolved.
Federal authorities announced three days ago that they were taking over the investigation after evidence emerged connecting the three-person cell to the murders. Investigators are looking for broader connections between the group and Neo-Nazi gangs in Germany as well as within the anti-immigrant National Democratic Party, or NPD.
Police near the city of Eisenach in Thuringia found the bodies of two suspected cell members, identified as Uwe B. and Uwe M., on Nov. 4 along with the firearms of the two Heilbronn police officers, prosecutors said in a statement two days ago.
The dead men’s apartment in Zwickau, a town in the eastern state of Saxony, was the site of an explosion the same day. There, police found a pistol identified as the murder weapon used on the Turkish and Greek victims as well as evidence of a “right-wing motive” for the murders, authorities said.
The third suspected member, a 36-year-old woman identified as Beate Z., is in custody on suspicion of participation in murder and attempted murder as part of a “terrorist group,” according to prosecutors.
Four DVDs were found in the rubble of the Zwickau apartment on which members of the group proclaim their anti-immigrant and racist objectives and threaten further attacks, according to Der Spiegel magazine.
Holger G. is accused of being in contact with the group from the end of the 1990s, when the NSU went underground, as well as providing identification documents and helping them rent camping recreational vehicles, prosecutors said.
That the group worked unhindered for over a decade has raised questions over policing in places such as Thuringia as well as the role of undercover security agents paying off nationalist group members to infiltrate or seek information from neo-Nazi groups. Friedrich, in comments to Bild, called for increased cooperation between the police and counterintelligence agencies at the state level.
The Interior Ministry counted about 5,600 people in neo-Nazi groups last year, an increase from about 5,000 in 2009. On Sept. 21, the government banned the country’s largest active neo-Nazi group, an organization that sought to spread its message through support to imprisoned extremists.
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