Although security services were keeping an eye on neo-Nazi groups, official assessments declared that the threat of right-wing terrorism was insignificant. But while resources were being concentrated on Islamist extremism, a small cell of neo-Nazis went undetected while it killed 10 people, nine of them with immigrant backgrounds, over seven years.
Police never suspected a right-wing connection — they found it only after the neo-Nazis virtually dropped into their laps after a bungled bank robbery. Last week, Germany installed a new head of its equivalent to the FBI. He has sworn to overhaul the country’s intelligence services.
Monitoring Islamist terrorism and other threats can be a difficult balance in any country, with shootings Aug. 5 at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin only the latest reminder. There, police say, Wade Michael Page, with ties to “white power” groups, killed six people before turning his gun on himself.
In Germany, “our institutions didn’t have right-wing terrorism on their screens,” Sebastian Edathy, a member of Germany’s Parliament who is leading an inquiry into the intelligence failures, said in an interview. “Society has focused over the last 10 years on the threat of Islamist extremism, but this is not the only extremist threat that we’re facing.”
The string of killings was underway by Sept. 11, 2001, and the slayings continued as Germany turned its attention away from neo-Nazis. A 2006 intelligence overhaul merged offices dealing with left-wing and right-wing extremism, in part to free resources to fight al-Qaeda and Islamist terrorism.
The focus had shifted so thoroughly by last year that a 473-page annual intelligence report by Germany’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, roughly equivalent to the FBI, said that “no structures of right-wing terrorism were detectable.”
It was released not long before the neo-Nazi cell was discovered.
‘No political will’
As for the killings, police initially said that they probably were part of an underworld dispute among Turkish crime gangs, and media dubbed them the “doener murders,” after a popular Turkish kebab sandwich. The final victim was officer Michele Kiesewetter, slain in April 2007, who police theorize may have been targeted so that her attackers could secure another weapon.
The gang is also alleged to have committed more than a dozen bank robberies and the bombing of a hair salon in an immigrant neighborhood of Cologne. But until the dramatic discovery of arms in the neo-Nazis’ home in southeastern Germany after a bungled bank robbery in November — weapons that linked them to the killings — police had not zeroed in on a racist motivation for the deaths.