German authorities had plenty of info on a far-right terror group accused of killing immigrations, robbing banks and building bombs. Yet for more than a decade, the neo-Nazis operated freely. People now want to know why investigators were unable to put tw
For German security authorities, it's nothing short of disaster. For 13 years, a small group of right-wing extremists was allegedly able to kill immigrants, build bombs, and rob banks without appearing on police radars. Local intelligence in the state of Thüringen, Germany, will have to answer some particularly pointed questions about how a terror cell could exist right under their noses.
Ten years ago,when a series of embarrassing incidents shook the service to its core and cost the head of the Thüringen State Office his job, state parliamentarian Heiko Gentzel, a Social Democrat, called for nothing less than dissolution of the state's intelligence service. "A secret service that can keep neither its confidential information nor its sources secret is incapable of doing its job, and needs to go," he said.
The secret service itself was not dissolved – and Gentzel's call is just as pertinent as ever. Except that "this time around, the situation is much, much more serious," he says. Like his counterparts in Germany's federal parliament, the state politician is asking how it's possible that a terror group as dangerous as the "Neo-Nazi Underground" could operate in full view of the secret service. "Didn't the light bulb go on in anybody's head?"
What we do know is that suspected terrorists Uwe Böhnhardt, Uwe Mundlos, Beate Zschäpe and Holger G. were well-known to intelligence services. There were some 24 bulging governing files about them and their entourage. These will now be pored over by a parliamentary commission, which will try to glean some answers about how a group that was under observation in the late 1990s could disappear without a trace, even though it had little cash and was facing international arrest warrants.
A web of lies and inside ties
There are many parallels between the scandals 10 years ago and the present failures. Back then, several key figures were involved whose past actions could still be part of the problem today. One of them is the then-president of the state parliament, Helmut Roewer, 61, who became head of Thüringen's State Office in 1994.
That same year, Roewer is thought to have hired Tino Brandt as a "liaison officer" (informant). Brandt soon became prominent in Thüringen's right-wing scene, heading an outfit called the Thüringer Heimatschutz, or THS (Thüringen Homeland Protection).
Brandt earned pretty good money spying for the State Office. All told, the service is thought to have paid him 200,000 deutschmark. Where exactly the money came from was not altogether clear. In any case, Roewer was forced to leave his job in 2000 because of his generosity not only to Brandt but to another spy.
Penal procedures instigated later against Roewer came to nothing as the defendant was deemed unable to stand trial. Brandt is said to have used the money he got for spying to support extreme right causes. In 2000, he was fired for anti-Semitic remarks. But no sooner was Roewer gone than his successor Peter Nocken re-hired him.
Nocken only lasted a couple of months, but during that time there was another notable incident – an attack on a mosque in Gera, the third largest city in Thuringia, allegedly carried out by three extreme right-wingers one of whom was an informant for the intelligence service. After his release from custody, Brandt was reportedly received personally by Nocken.
Personal involvement in the informant scene by the head of a State Office goes against intelligence service regulations, which state that the acquisition and processing of information must be kept separate. However, in state government circles it is believed possible that Roewer or his successor ran some informants on their own hook – which is why the names of the spies were not in the files.
Although Thürigen intelligence service denies it, there are allegations that at least one other spy in "Homeland Protection," possibly someone close to the three activists who later founded the terror cell. In the spring of 1998, the terror trio disappeared, allegedly without a trace. The series of murders began two years later. Few think it possible that the three men were operating entirely alone.
Read the original story in German
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