A major neo-Nazi murder trial opened yesterday in Germany over a killing spree that embarrassed authorities and shed a spotlight on the country’s murky far-right community.
Under a heavy police presence, chief defendant Beate Zschaepe, 38, entered the Munich court just before proceedings began, appearing relaxed and with her arms folded, while dozens of anti-racism protesters shouted slogans outside.
Since the middle of the night, people, many of them reporters, had lined up outside to claim one of the 50 free courtroom seats to follow the high-profile trial whose significance extends far beyond the murders.
Zschaepe faces charges linked to 10 mostly racially motivated murders over a seven-year period as the last surviving member of an alleged killer trio, most of whose victims were of Turkish origin.
The random discovery of the trio in late 2011 stunned Germans, exposed security flaws and forced the country to reassess its image of having learned the lessons of its Nazi past.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called the case a “disgrace” for the country.
Outside emotions ran high with two women scuffling with police, while inside many of the victims’ families were due to get their first glimpse of the accused in person at the southern German court.
A founding member of the far-right gang dubbed the National Socialist Underground (NSU), Zschaepe is charged with complicity in the murders of eight ethnic Turks, a Greek immigrant and a German policewoman between 2000 and 2007.
She is also accused of involvement in 15 armed robberies, arson and attempted murder in two bomb attacks.
Her lawyers deny she was directly involved in murder. Dressed in a black jacket, pressed white shirt and wearing large hoop earrings, Zschaepe entered the courtroom before the hearing got under way and stood with her back to the television camera.
She has remained silent during her 18-month custody and has no plans to break her silence during the hearings which could last more than two years.
She faces life in prison if convicted. Four male alleged accomplices are also due to go on trial accused of supporting the NSU.
Germany has not seen a terror trial of this scale since members of the prominent left-wing militant group, the Red Army Faction, were sentenced 36 years ago.