By Ayhan Simsek
A German court sentenced neo-Nazi Beate Zschaepe to life in prison Wednesday for the terrorist group NSU’s murders and bomb attacks targeting Turkish immigrants.
At Munich’s Higher Regional Court, Presiding Judge Manfred Goetzl said Zschaepe was guilty of membership in a terrorist group and complicity in 10 murders and two bomb attacks committed by the neo-Nazi group.
Goetzl ruled out any parole before she serves 15 years -- the average life term in Germany -- stressing the “exceptional severity of the crimes” she committed.
A parole court will decide after this period whether Zschaepe is eligible to apply for release.
In similar terrorism cases, German parole courts extended prison sentences up to 26 years.
Lighter sentences for supporters
Surprising many observers, the Munich court handed lighter sentences to supporters of the neo-Nazi terror group.
Andre Emminger, who rented caravans for the group which were used during the murders in 2000-2007, was given a prison sentence of two years and six months.
Several far-right extremists in the courtroom cheered and applauded the ruling.
The prosecutors had demanded a 12-year sentence.
Two other suspects -- Holger G. and Carsten S. -- who admitted providing support to the group in the past and cooperated with the police, also got lighter sentences.
Holger G. was sentenced to three years in prison, and Carsten S. was sentenced to three years under the juvenile penal code.
Ralf Wohlleben, a main supporter of the terrorist NSU who was charged with providing the gun used in the murders, was sentenced to 10 years in prison, two years less than prosecutors sought.
Shadowy group NSU
The National Socialist Underground (NSU) killed eight Turkish immigrants, a Greek citizen, and a German policewoman between 2000 and 2007, but the murders remained long unsolved. The group also carried out bomb attacks targeting shops owned by immigrants in Cologne.
The German public first learned of the group's existence and its role in the murders in 2011, when two members -- Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Bohnhardt -- died after an unsuccessful bank robbery and police found guns and extreme-right literature in their apartment.
During the five-year trial, Zschaepe denied any role in the killings and bomb attacks and tried to lay the blame on her two late colleagues in the far-right terror cell.
But her defense team failed to present any strong evidence to dispute the accusations.
As the 43-year old declined to give any insight about the NSU, major questions over the murders remain unanswered.
Institutional racism alleged
The scandal surrounding the neo-Nazi NSU has led to criticism of police and security agencies, and accusations of institutional racism.
Until 2011, Germany’s police and intelligence services ruled out any racial motive for the murders and instead treated immigrant families as suspects, questioning them over alleged connections with mafia groups and drug traffickers.
While recent revelations have shown that Germany’s domestic intelligence agency had dozens of informants who had contacts with the NSU suspects, officials insisted that they had no prior information about the NSU terror cell and its suspected role in the killings.