Lawyers for the woman alleged to have been closely involved in a far-right murder campaign say that she was not a member of the terrorist group. Prosecutors are pinning their hopes on evidence found in an exploded house.
Beate Zschäpe has been in investigative detention for 14 months. Ever since her arrest on November 8, 2011, she's refused to say anything about her alleged activity as a far-right terrorist.
Four days before her arrest, her alleged accomplices, Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Böhnhardt, committed suicide after they apparently saw no way of escaping the police, who were close behind them following a bank robbery.
The three neo-Nazis, who went into hiding in 1998, are alleged to have formed the National Socialist Underground (NSU) and to have killed nine immigrants and a policewoman.
In December 2012 the federal prosecutor, Harald Range, laid charges against Zschäpe, the only alleged member of the group to survive. She was accused of involvement, not only in the ten murders, but also in a number of bombing attacks, bank robberies and aggravated arson, as well as of membership in a terrorist organization.
Range told the German news magazine "Der Spiegel" he was convinced "that she wasn't only an accomplice or just a mere hanger-on, but that she was involved on an equal footing."
Lawyers reject accusation
Zschäpe's lawyers disagree. According to media reports, they deny that their client was directly involved in the crimes. Zschäpe is not expected to testify at her trial.
According to German criminal law, a group can only be called a terrorist organization if it has at least three members. Zschäpe's lawyers are expected to argue that there was no terrorist organization because the group only had two members: their client wasn't a member of it.
Range rejects the argument: "We are convinced that the NSU was a group made up of three members that relied on the assistance of a small group of supporters and accomplices."
1,200 witnesses and 6,800 pieces of evidence
Range's opinion is based on a year of intensive investigation involving ten prosecutors and up to 400 police officers, which he describes as "a herculean task." Around 1,200 witnesses were questioned and 6,800 pieces of evidence examined.
According to Range, most of this evidence came from the ruins of the house in the Eastern German town of Zwickau in which the trio lived unobtrusively for years. Zschäpe allegedly blew the house up before she surrendered to the police. In the ruins, investigators also found a video in which the NSU boasted about their killings and bombings.
Zschäpe is in prison in Cologne, and her conditions there have now been somewhat relaxed. On Wednesday (09.01.2013) a court in Munich allowed her in future to talk to her defense lawyer "without a glass screen between them" and said that her correspondence with the lawyers now longer required any checking.
The court argued that the investigations by the prosecutor had made it fairly clear that the NSU had ceased to exist after the death of Zschäpe's alleged accomplices. There was therefore no reason to fear that that Zschäpe "would be active in support of this group from her prison cell."
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