German Officers' Biases Seen as Enabling Neo-Nazis

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BERLIN -- Germany's police and security services suffered from deeply rooted prejudices and a lack of cultural diversity, which allowed a neo-Nazi cell to carry out violent attacks against immigrants for more than a decade without being detected, according to a parliamentary committee report issued Thursday.

The parliamentary investigation was ordered after the police in November 2011 stumbled on a link between a bungled bank robbery and the unsolved murders of nine small-business owners -- eight Turks and one Greek -- between 2000 and 2007. The realization that a three-member cell of neo-Nazis operated in Germany for years with impunity caused public outrage and led to the resignation of top law enforcement officials.

The inquiry concluded that prejudice often led the police to draw quick and erroneous conclusions about certain murders, based on the ethnicity of the victims, and it demanded changes in the 36 law enforcement agencies, including training and recruiting more ethnic minorities.

"Turks murder Turks -- that seems to have been the mentality," said Sebastian Edathy, a lawmaker from the center-left Social Democratic Party who was chairman of the committee. "I don't think it is a case of institutional racism, but we do have racists working within the security authorities."

The 1,357-page report largely ascribed the authorities' inability to solve the cases to biases harbored by individual officers. It also found that a culture more defined by rivalry than cooperation among the security forces also rendered it impossible to connect a bank robbery by the cell in one state to a murder in another.

Lawyers representing the victims' families and representatives of the country's police officers criticized the findings of the report, which is to be debated in Parliament on Sept. 2.

Rainer Wendt, the head of Germany's police union, called the findings of the report "excessive and unfair," and he placed blame on politicians who make decisions about training and financing the forces.

The committee made 47 points and recommended changes to the structure of the security forces, their ability to cooperate and how they carry out their investigations. No new legislation based on the recommendations by the committee, which included representatives from all five parties represented in Parliament, is expected to be drawn up until after a legislature is elected on Sept. 22.

Even after the failed bank robbery, it took the police days to make the connection to the murders. The authorities eventually linked the cell to the killing of a police officer and a 2004 nail bomb attack on a shopping street in Cologne that was popular with Turks in which more than 20 people were injured.

Beate Zschäpe, the sole survivor of the cell after the two other members killed themselves, is standing trial in Munich, charged with complicity in the killing of 10 people and carrying out the bombings. She faces life in prison if found guilty. Four other men face lesser charges on suspicion of supporting the three cell members.

Clemens Binninger, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right Christian Democratic Union who served on the committee, singled out the Cologne bombing as a glaring example of the authorities' refusal to consider racism or xenophobia as a motivation for the crime.

"A bomb attack in a street where only ethnic minorities live and work and only foreigners were targeted and were victims of this crime -- nevertheless, authorities did not include a possibly far-right motive in their investigation, but focused only on organized crime," Mr. Binninger said.

The 15.7 million members of ethnic minorities among the slightly more than 80 million people living in Germany are still vastly underrepresented in official positions and higher levels of government.

"If at least one member of a team involved in the investigative police had had Turkish grandparents, then it would not have taken more than six years to realize there might have been a right-wing motive behind the murders," said Mr. Edathy, the committee chairman.

Lawyers representing the victims' families at the trial in Munich issued a statement in which they insisted that institutional racism is prevalent and claimed the report did not go far enough.

The committee also called for improved cooperation among the myriad police, state and federal security forces, and for an increased vigilance to the threat posed by far-right extremism, which had been less of a concern after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, which drew attention and resources to combating Islamic extremism.

Mishandling of the investigation has already claimed several high-ranking officials. In July 2012, Heinz Fromm stepped down as president of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Germany's domestic intelligence service, days after it emerged that an official in his office had shredded documents containing potential evidence.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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