Alleged German terrorist breaks her silence

2015-12-09 18:04
Terror suspect Beate Zschaepe at court in Munich, southern Germany. (Tobias Hase, AP)

Terror suspect Beate Zschaepe at court in Munich, southern Germany. (Tobias Hase, AP)

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Munich - A German woman accused of being a member of neo-Nazi terrorist cell that carried out a series of racially inspired murders, bomb attacks and bank robberies denied on Wednesday she had been involved in the killings or being a member of the group.

Breaking her silence for the first time in her two-and-half year trial, Beate Zschaepe, 40, apologised to the victims of the National Socialist Underground (NSU), for failing to prevent the killings, which took place between 2000 and 2007.

"I feel morally guilty that I could not prevent the ten murders and the two bombings," she said in a 53-page statement read out in a Munich court by one of her lawyers, Mathias Grasel.

It was a very different Zschaepe who entered the courtroom on Wednesday. In the previous 248 days of her trial she has appeared sullen, often turning her back on the assembled TV cameras and press photographers.

But on Wednesday, she took her place as chief defendant in the trial smiling and not hiding her face from the cameras. Four others are also on trial for providing support to the NSU.

Any questions from the court about the statement will be answered in written form.

The trial is one of biggest in Germany since the 1970's when members of the far-left Baader Meinhof Gang or Red Army Faction faced a court.

Zschaepe's testimony also once again exposed the tensions on her defence team with Grasel roundly attacking in court the three original court-appointed lawyers as being "unco-operative."

The alleged sole surviving member of the NSU, Zschaepe has been charged with acting as an accomplice in the execution-style killings, which were carried by two members of the group, Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Boehnhardt.

Zschaepe rejected the charge of being a founding member of a terrorist organisation as "baseless," saying: "Neither then nor now have I seen myself as a member of such a movement."

In her testimony, Zschaepe said she had talked about going to the police when she became aware of the first killing of a Turkish-born flower stall operator Enver Simsek, but said that Mundlos and Boehnhardt said they would kill themselves rather than face jail.

However, Zschaepe did shed light on the 2007 murder of a policewoman, Michele Kiesewetter, and the severe wounding of her colleague.

Zschaepe said Mundlos and Boehnhardt had told her that Kiesewetter had been killed so as to gain her service pistol.

'Family'

But the motives behind at least the Simsek murder appeared to be a mystery even to Zschaepe. "To this day I do not know what their true motives were," she said.

Kiesewetter's pistol was found in November 2011 in the burnt-out campervan where Mundlos and Boehnhardt had died in an apparent murder-suicide after police closed in on them following a bank robbery. Zschaepe gave herself up four days later.

A complicated love-triangle developed between Zschaepe, Mundlos and Boehnhardt soon after the three met in the 1980's.

Together they drifted deeper into the neo-Nazi scene in Jena, the eastern German town where they grew up.

But Zschaepe said she later was worried about Mundlos and Boehnhardt's activities. "I became aware that I was living with two people for whom a human life was worth nothing," she said.

But she added: "They were my family. They did not need me, but I needed them."

Zschaepe also confessed in her testimony to torching the apartment in the eastern German town of Zwickau which she shared with Mundlos and Boehnhardt, saying she was carrying out their wishes to destroy all evidence of the group.

But she rejected the attempted murder charge she faces, insisting that she had first gone through the apartment building to check if anyone was at home before setting the apartment on fire.

Zschaepe is also facing charges of being an accomplice in 15 robberies that were allegedly carried out by Mundlos and Boehnhardt to help finance the NSU's operations as an underground organisation.

But she insisted that she had not been involved in their preparation nor implementation.

Gamze Kubasik, who is the daughter of one of the NSU's victims, a Dortmund kiosk operator who was gunned down in 2006, dismissed Zschaepe's testimony as "pure tactics".

"Ms Zschaepe is using her statement to try to avoid responsibility," said Gamze Kubasik, who is the daughter of one of the NSU's victims, a Dortmund kiosk operator. "I do not believe one word of this statement."

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