© 2024 Michigan State University Board of Trustees
Public Media from Michigan State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

German Terrorism Trial Puts Racism Fears In The Spotlight

Ismail Yozgat (right) and Ayse Yozgat pray at a memorial event on the seventh anniversary of the murder of their son Halit in Kassel, Germany.
Uwe Zucchi
Ismail Yozgat (right) and Ayse Yozgat pray at a memorial event on the seventh anniversary of the murder of their son Halit in Kassel, Germany.

Emotions ran high as Germany's biggest terrorism trial in decades got underway Monday in Munich. The hearing is on the murders of 10 people who were the victims of a nearly decadelong neo-Nazi terror campaign against the Turkish community there.

A group of Turkish immigrants scuffled with German security forces, trying to get into the courthouse to see the trial up close. They and many others among the 3 million people of Turkish descent who live in Germany are angry, saying the murders and aftermath highlight prevalent racism not just in society but in the government. They want to know why German authorities failed to uncover — let alone stop — the terror campaign against them.

Seventy-seven relatives of the victims are co-plaintiffs alongside the government. They are expected to be in the courtroom on and off during the trial, which could last for years. More than 600 witnesses are scheduled to be called.

The five defendants are appearing in public for the first time since their arrest more than a year ago. At least one of the four male defendants pulled the hood of his sweatshirt over his face to avoid the cameras.

The main defendant — Beate Tschaepe, 38 — entered the courtroom with a smug expression and her arms crossed. She is believed to be the last surviving member of the National Socialist Underground, which is the alleged terrorist cell suspected of carrying out the murders. The other four defendants are accused of helping the NSU:

— Ralf Wohlleben, 38, and Carsten Schultze, 33, are accused of being accessories to murder in the killing of the nine men. (The 10th victim was a German policewoman). Prosecutors allege that they supplied Tschaepe and two other members — who later killed themselves — with the weapons and silencers used in the murders.

— Andre Eminger, 33, is accused of helping in two bank robberies and in a 2001 bombing in Cologne's old town. He is also accused of two counts of supporting a terrorist organization.

— Holger Gerlach, 39, is accused of three counts of supporting a terrorist organization.

Germany's Der Spiegel magazine, whose reporter is one of the few in the courtroom, wrote that the proceeding was quickly halted when defense attorneys sought the removal of the lead judge. They accused him of bias because the defense team was searched for weapons before they entered, while the prosecution and others were not.

The trial resumed a half-hour later, after the motion was apparently dismissed.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at NPR.org. From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.
Journalism at this station is made possible by donors who value local reporting. Donate today to keep stories like this one coming. It is thanks to your generosity that we can keep this content free and accessible for everyone. Thanks!