Neo-Nazi murder suspect breaks silence, rejects ideology at trial

Defendant Zschaepe arrives for the continuation of her trial at courtroom in Munich

BERLIN (Reuters) – The lone surviving suspect in a neo-Nazi murder trial that has shaken Germany said in her first remarks in court on Thursday that she had disavowed the ideology behind the crime and condemned the killing spree she is accused of being involved in.

Prosecutors say Beate Zschaepe was part of the so-called National Socialist Underground (NSU) cell that murdered eight Turks, a Greek and a German policewoman between 2000 and 2007, and carried out two bombings and 15 bank robberies.

Zschaepe denies taking part in the racist killings with two close friends who killed themselves in 2011, although she has, through her lawyer, said she felt morally guilty for not preventing them.

On Thursday, Zschaepe, with her long black hair flowing over her shoulders, broke her silence in the three-year-old trial by acknowledging that she had once identified with elements of nationalist ideology, a court spokeswoman confirmed.

“Today, I judge people not according to where they come from or their political views but according to their behavior,” German media quoted her as telling the court. The spokeswoman confirmed this was the gist of what she had said.

The discovery in 2011 of the cell shocked Germany and official investigations since have shown the authorities massively underestimated the risk of far-right violence.

If found guilty, Zschaepe faces life imprisonment.

“I condemn what Uwe Boehnhardt and Uwe Mundlos did to the victims and my own wrongdoing, as I have previously conveyed,” she was quoted as saying by German media.

Zschaepe had close ties with the two men, who committed suicide when police discovered the gang by chance. They had been based in eastern Germany, where right-wing violence escalated after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

Eastern Germany has also seen a resurgence in rightist violence in the last year due to the influx of more than a million migrants into the country.

Munich court spokeswoman Andrea Titz said the comments by Zschaepe did not change the course of the trial. It is unclear how much longer the proceeding will last.

(Reporting by Madeline Chambers; editing by Mark Heinrich)