German complacency about the country's control of neo-Nazism and about a decline in racism and xenophobia has been shattered by the discovery of a tiny far-Right cell which, over a period of 13 years, carried out at least 10 cold-blooded murders, funded itself with 14 bank robberies, planted two nail bombs, and put 88 public figures, including MPs and leaders of Islamic and Turkish groups, on the hit list. The group came to light earlier this month when the bodies of two men were discovered in a camper van in Thuringia state; they had set the van alight and shot themselves as police approached. A few hours later, their female accomplice burned down their flat in the eastern city of Zwickau, and turned herself in. The ten murdered included eight of Turkish descent. All three gang members were born in the former German Democratic Republic and spent their youth there after the 1990 unification of Germany, in a period when neo-Nazism surged as the East German economy crashed and unemployment exceeded 30 per cent. All three had open Nazi leanings.

Both the circumstances and the political context raise serious questions. The most serious problem arises from official failure to track down the neo-Nazi gang. The police have not solved even one of the murders, though they now connect the group with the racist killings. In addition, a member of the German internal security service (BfV) was present at one of those, and was exposed because he was the only witness not to call the police. The official was also a known far-Right supporter, and the spotlight is now on the BfV's use of paid informers and possible protection of such links at the expense of criminal investigation. This problem has also arisen in the English courts, where two men are being tried, on the strength of new evidence, for the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1993; at that time, links with informers were publicly said to have hampered the Metropolitan Police investigation, and a later public inquiry also excoriated the force for institutional racism. As for the German security agencies and police, they have long kept German Muslims and other ethnic minorities under sustained surveillance but seem to have paid far less attention to white terrorism. The influence of some far-Right sympathisers in these official bodies cannot be discounted. Any resulting partiality will only strengthen feelings in West Asia and elsewhere that the west is blindly prejudiced against Islam and is incapable of dealing with its own homegrown racist terrorism.

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