Life sentence for neo-Nazi Beate Zschäpe

Today, the Munich court sentenced Beate Zschäpe to life imprisonment. The Neo-Nazi terrorist was found guilty of multiple murders, bombings, robberies, and terrorist activities. But why didn't the police catch Zschäpe and her accomplices earlier?

Daria Sukharchuk
Daria Sukharchuk NewsMavens, Central & Eastern Europe
Life sentence for neo-Nazi Beate Zschäpe - NewsMavens
Suspect Beate Zschaepe arrives for the verdict in the court in Munich, southern Germany, Wednesday, July 11, 2018. (Peter Kneffel/pool photo via AP)

Why this story matters:

A life sentence for Zschäpe, the only living core member of the National-Socialist Underground (NSU), is going to bring some satisfaction to the families of the victims who were in court today. But many of them still cannot feel closure: as Abdulkerim Simsek, the son of the first murder victim, said, he still does not understand why NSU killed his father, a florist from Nuremberg, in 2000.

Many believe that the German police and security services botched their investigation of the neo-Nazi terrorist cell.

They have a point: despite having paid spies in the far-right, the German police claim to have only learned of the NSU in 2011, when Zschäpe turned herself in.

It was only then that the murders and bombings were connected to racial hatred as a motive. Until then, the police had treated the victims' families as themain suspects and looked for connections with criminal organizations. Many accuse them of systemic racism and prejudice against migrants.

The families have already stated their intent to push for further investigation: they do not believe the four men sentenced alongside Zschäpe were the only other people involved.

Details from the story:

  • Beate Zschäpe, Uwe Mundlos, and Uwe Böhnhardt were the three core members of the National-Socialist Underground, a Neo-Nazi terrorist cell that operated between 1998 and 2011. They killed ten people (9 men of foreign origin and a German policewoman), planted several bombs, two of which exploded and injured 20 people, and carried out 15 robberies to finance their activities.
  • Last week, Zschäpe broke her silence for the first time in seven years. In her last word, she distanced herself from the Neo-Nazi scene and sent her condolences to the victims' families, but did not acknowledge having any hand in the murders.
  • Four more men, believed to be "supporters" of the "NSU", received their prison sentences today. 
  • She is likely to spend her life in prison, and not be released after serving 15 or 20 years, as is often the case with life sentences in Germany. In her case, the judge has acknowledged "a serious culpability", which makes such early release harder.
  • Eight out of ten of the NSU victims were of Turkish origin, and the Turkish government has demanded justice for them ahead of the verdict.
  • In the aftermath of the NSU investigation, the German parliament has given more power to the German domestic intelligence service, in the hope that it would allow them to better catch right-wing extremists.
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