Munich – A German court found the main defendant guilty on Wednesday in a string of neo-Nazi killings more than a decade ago – a high-profile trial that raised fresh questions about the treatment of migrants at a time when Germany is grappling with an unprecedented influx of refugees and surging support for a far-right party bent on keeping the country white.

The Munich court sentenced Beate Zschaepe, the only known survivor of the National Socialist Underground group, to life in prison in the killings of 10 people – most of them migrants – who were gunned down between 2000 and 2007. The group’s name, often shortened to NSU, alludes to Adolf Hitler’s Nazi party.

Zschaepe was also found guilty of membership in a terrorist organization, bomb attacks that injured dozens and several lesser crimes including a string of robberies. Four men were also found guilty of supporting the group in various ways and given prison terms of between 2½ and 10 years.

While the verdict was widely welcomed by victims’ families as well as anti-racism campaigners and mainstream political parties, the court’s failure to investigate the secretive wider network of people sympathetic to the National Socialist Undergound group’s cause drew criticism.

The verdict “is a first and very important step,” said Gamze Kubasik, the daughter of Mehmet Kubasik, who was shot dead by Zschaepe’s two accomplices in the western city of Dortmund on April 4, 2006. “I just hope all other supporters of the NSU are found and convicted.”

Uli Grotsch, a lawmaker for the center-left Social Democratic Party who participated in a parliamentary investigation of the authorities’ handling of the case, said many questions remain unanswered.

“The relatives want to know why their father, brother or son had to die,” said Grotsch, adding that Zschaepe and her two deceased accomplices – Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Boehnhardt – must have had numerous supporters. “We’re dealing with a well-organized neo-Nazi network that is still operating in secret and we can’t rule out that a series of murders like that of the NSU can happen again at any time.”

Zschaepe was arrested in 2011, shortly after setting fire to the apartment she, Mundlos and Boehnhardt shared in the eastern town of Zwickau. Hours earlier Mundlos had killed Boehnhardt and then himself in what investigators believe was an attempt to evade arrest.

The trio had gone into hiding in 1998, resolving to kill people “for anti-Semitic or other racist motivations” in order to intimidate ethnic minorities and destabilize the German state, according to the Munich court’s presiding judge, Manfred Goetzl.

Although no evidence was found proving that Zschaepe had been physically present during the robberies and attacks, Goetzl said her contribution to the trio’s crimes during its 14 years on the run was “essential.”

In particular, he cited Zschaepe’s role in distributing a macabre video in which the National Socialist Underground claimed responsibility for the killings after her accomplices’ deaths. Featuring a cartoon “Pink Panther” character, the video contained pictures the men had taken as their victims lay dead or dying.


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