Amnesty International: The legacy of the failures to investigate the NSU murders

voulgarides_thymataThe victims of the NSU murderous activity. The eighth victim is Theodorus Boulgarides.

[JGD: This text is part of a broader document by Amnesty International titled: “Germany: Living in insecurity: Germany is failing victims of racist violence”, published on 9/6/2016. You can find the whole document here. The following chapter looks into the failure of the german authorities to investigate the murderous racist activity of a neonazi terror group called NSU. More on the trial of NSU can be found in the site of NSU-watch.]

Nothing will change unless those people responsible for the mistakes in the investigation into the NSU murders have been held accountable. We need to fight institutional racism within the German authorities and in particular within the police. It is also important to raise awareness, including of the crimes perpetrated by the NSU”.

Yvonne Boulgarides, the wife of Theodorus Boulgarides, a victim of the NSU, 17 September 2014.

Three members of the Nationalsozialistischer Untergrund (National Socialist Underground-NSU) – Uwe Mundlos, Uwe Böhnhardt and Beate Zschäpe – allegedly murdered 10 people in six German states between 2000 and 2007. Eight of the victims were of Turkish descent, one was of Greek descent and one was a police officer. The group also allegedly carried out two bomb attacks in Cologne in 2001 and 2004 and several robberies.

The German authorities failed to carry out an effective investigation into the murders. In particular, for a decade the police and intelligence services at both the federal and state levels overlooked aspects of the crimes that pointed to the involvement of a far-right group and to a racist motive for the killings.

On 4 November 2011, after robbing a bank in Eisenach (Thuringia), Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Böhnhardt set the mobile home in which they were hiding alight and allegedly shot and killed themselves shortly before police found them. The same day, Beate Zschäpe allegedly set fire to the flat in Zwickau (Saxony) where the three had lived together. She sent a propaganda video, which linked the group to the murders and other crimes, to several recipients, including policy makers and the media, before turning herself in to police. At the time of writing (May 2016), the trial of Beate Zschäpe and four individuals who allegedly supported the NSU was continuing in Munich.

Despite the many elements indicating that institutional racism within police and intelligence services may have played a part in the repeated failures to identify and investigate the racist motive behind the murders, the official reviews conducted to date have failed to examine this question thoroughly. Their focus – and the focus of resulting recommendations – has, rather, been on technical failures and operational shortcomings, leaving deeper problems of attitude and approach only partially addressed.


In all these years, they have never treated us as victims. We were always treated as suspects by police or politicians, as those who were hiding something. Nobody asked us about our opinion or listened to us.”

Yvonne Boulgarides, the wife of Theodorus Boulgarides, a victim of the NSU.

Nine of the murders were carried out with the same firearm, a Česká zbrojovka CZ 83. Investigators also identified a number of elements common to these crimes: several of the victims were small shopkeepers who were attacked in their shops, but nothing was stolen. [8]

The murders were committed in six different states (Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg, Hamburg, Lower-Saxony, Meklenburg-Western Pomerania and North-Rhine Westphalia), and the police established several special commissions to investigate the crimes including those in Dortmund, Hamburg, Kassel, Munich, Nuremberg and Rostock. The Federal Criminal Affairs Department (Bundeskriminalamt, BKA) was involved in the investigations, mostly assuming a coordination function between state authorities. Significantly, none of the police units in charge of investigating politically motivated crimes at the state and federal levels played any substantial role in the investigations.

Until 2006, despite the lack of any serious evidence implicating them in the crimes, the police focused primarily on the theory that the murders were carried out by organized criminal networks operating within minority communities and dealing with drugs and other illegal activities. A special police commission established in Nuremberg in 2001 to investigate one of the murders, that of Habil Kılıç, was called the Crescent Special Commission (SoKo Halbmond), referring to the crescent in the Turkish flag. Another police commission established in 2005 was called Bosporus Special Commission (Besondere Aufbauorganisation Bosporus, BAO Bosporus), referring to the strait connecting the Black Sea to the Marmara Sea in Turkey.

This approach led the police to interrogate hundreds of people of Turkish descent. In addition, relatives and friends of the victims were often treated as suspects and were not promptly provided with information regarding the progress of the investigation.

Yvonne Boulgarides, the wife of Theodorus Boulgarides who was killed by the NSU on 15 June 2005 in Munich, told Amnesty International that right from the start of the investigation police failed to inform her properly about the circumstances surrounding her husband’s murder. The day after the murder, police interrogated Yvonne and her daughters. She told Amnesty International: “We were separated by police and interrogated separately. I was interrogated for 3 or 4 hours. At some point I heard one of my daughters screaming: ‘I won’t say anything anymore’.” [9] According to Yvonne’s lawyer, Yavuz Narin, police asked Yvonne’s 15-year-old daughter whether her father was a drug dealer and if he had sexually abused her. [10]

Yvonne was interrogated many times between 2005 and 2011. She told Amnesty International that she had often felt under enormous pressure from the investigators to confess her involvement in the murder. Yvonne said: “In all these years, they never treated us as victims. We were always treated as suspects by the police or politicians, as if were hiding something. Nobody asked us about our opinions or listened to us.” [11]

The relatives of other victims described similar experiences. Police treated them as suspects, despite the lack of credible evidence pointing to their involvement. Antonia von der Behrens, lawyer for the family of Mehmet Kubaşık who was murdered on 4 April 2006 in Dortmund (North-Rhine Wetsphalia), told Amnesty International: “Police interrogated family members, friends and neighbours many times. They always asked the same questions about the victim’s possible involvement in criminal activities etc. The family found itself isolated and stigmatized. Neighbours and acquaintances took some distance, they started thinking the family may hide dodgy secrets. That was also strengthened by the negative messages conveyed by the authorities’ public campaign which stressed that people of Turkish descent constituted a parallel society, that families did not want to cooperate with police, who were confronted with a wall of silence”. [12]

In 2006, several years after the first in this series of murders, Bavarian investigators started to consider the possibility that the murders had been perpetrated by one individual (Einzeltätertheorie), rather than a network and that there may have been a racist motive. In a new case analysis (Fallanalyse II), the Bavarian State Criminal Affairs Department (Bayerisches Landeskriminalamt, BLKA) identified prejudice against Turks as a possible motive behind the murders. In 2007, following a discussion between the Bavarian investigating authorities and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the latter shared its assessment regarding the profile of the perpetrator. This stated: “the offender is a disciplined, mature individual who is shooting the victims because they are of Turkish ethnic origin or appear to be Turkish. The offender has a personal, deep rooted animosity towards people of Turkish origin”. [13]

However, the authorities in many other states did not agree with the conclusions reached by the BLKA and the Baden-Württemberg’s State Criminal Affairs Department was asked to develop another case analysis. This was published on 30 January 2007 and excluded any possible racist motive for the murders. It concluded that the fact that most of the victims were of Turkish descent did not preclude the perpetrators also being of Turkish descent. Astonishingly, it pointed to the “rigid code of honour” of the perpetrators, stating that this meant those responsible could not have had a Western European background. [14]

According to lawyers who spoke to Amnesty International, several of the victims’ relatives and other witnesses raised the possibility that the murders had been motivated by racism with the police. However, their views were either dismissed or not seriously investigated. For example, after the bombing in Keupstrasse (Cologne) in 2004, members of the Turkish community raised with the authorities the possibility that the attack could have been racially motivated. However, the General Prosecutor of North-Rhine Westphalia (where Cologne is situated) dismissed that hypothesis as in his opinion there was no concrete evidence to support it. [15] After the bombing, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, one of the German intelligence services, briefly considered the possible involvement of members of the far-right, but restricted its investigation to the area of Cologne. The authorities identified three suspects from the far-right scene, who were able to provide an alibi. They subsequently ended that line of enquiry. [16]


In November 2011, police found the firearm used in nine of the murders in the apartment in Zwickau that was set alight by Beate Zschäpe. In addition, the video she sent to several policy makers and other political and religious stakeholders made clear the NSU’s involvement in the murders.

In the burned out flat, the authorities found a list of about 10,000 potential targets for violent attack across Germany. They included asylum shelters, businesses owned by people from minority backgrounds, Turkish cultural and community organizations and left-wing organizations. [17]

Victims’ families first heard about the NSU’s involvement in the murders of their relatives from the media. Yvonne told Amnesty International: “When I found out from the media why my husband was killed I could not believe it. The fact that he was murdered because of who he was, because of how he looked, that racism was the motive for the murder made his death even more senseless”. [18]

In January 2012, the German Federal Parliament established a Committee of Inquiry into the authorities’ failure to effectively investigate the NSU murders and to bring those responsible to justice. On 22 August 2013, the Committee published its final report. This acknowledged the authorities’ failures to take all reasonable steps to investigate the racist motive behind the murders. In particular, the report highlighted that authorities had continued to pursue their initial leads even when they proved to be blatantly inconclusive, had underestimated the potential threats posed by far-right structures in Germany and had dealt inadequately with the families of the victims. It also pointed to the poor coordination during investigations between the police forces and intelligence services at both the state and the federal levels.

The Committee addressed dozens of recommendations to authorities aimed at improving the investigation and prosecution of politically motivated crimes. [19] They included for instance the need for further cooperation between police and prosecutorial authorities in the investigation of politically motivated crimes, the revision of the criteria to classify and investigate these crimes and the need to build further intercultural competences within police services.

However, the report did not include any specific conclusion regarding the part that institutional racism may have played in the authorities’ failures to investigate the murders as racist crimes. On 14 October 2015, the German Federal Parliament established another Committee of Inquiry focusing on two particular aspects of the cases that remained unclear: the role played by paid informants within the far-right scene, including the information that they may have had regarding the NSU; and the support that the three members of the NSU may have received from other individuals. [20]

The inquiry followed concerns raised by some lawyers and members of the Federal Parliament that the authorities had received information about the NSU before November 2011. Since the 1990s, dozens of members of the far-right scene have been cooperating with intelligence services in several states as informants. [21] It remains unclear to what extent those informants provided the authorities with reliable information on the three members of the NSU as well as on their supporters. [22] In particular, some of the informants, especially in Thuringia, were very close to far-right groups in which the three members of the NSU were active in the 1990s. [23]

In the aftermath of the events of November 2011, which brought to light the involvement of the NSU in the murders, several hundred files stored at the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution were destroyed; the employee officially held responsible was disciplined. The uproar following the disclosure of this action resulted in the resignation of several heads of the intelligence services at both the federal and the state level. They included the head of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution and the heads of the Offices for the Protection of the Constitution of Berlin, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia.

At the time of writing, no inquiries had identified the specific authorities responsible for the failures in the investigation of the murders.


Both the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights [24] have noted that some of the authorities’ failures to effectively investigate the crimes perpetrated by the NSU point to institutional racism.

“Institutional racism” was defined in the report of the Committee of Inquiry led by Sir William Macpherson into the case of the racially motivated murder in the UK of Stephen Lawrence on 22 October 1993 as:

“The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people”. [25]

The Macpherson report concluded that institutional racism was apparent in the investigation into the murder of Stephen Lawrence and particularly in the treatment received by the family of the victim, the racial stereotyping of a witness and the failure of many officers to recognize the murder as racially motivated. [26]

In a report to CERD and in meetings with Amnesty International, many lawyers, scholars and NGOs have also raised concerns about institutional racism as one of the underlying reasons for the failures by German authorities to effectively investigate the murders perpetrated by the NSU. [27]

The reluctance of the German police to adequately investigate the alleged racist motive behind the murders – exemplified by their discarding of the case analysis provided in 2006 by the Bavarian investigators, the stereotyping which they relied on to describe the profile of the perpetrators, and the treatment of family members – are all indicative of institutional racism. This is not to say that individual officers and investigators were racist themselves or that the authorities follow racist policies and practices, but to recognize that the authorities failed as institutions to ensure equal treatment irrespective of race or ethnicity.

It is beyond the scope of this report, and the resources of Amnesty International, to present a definitive conclusion as to the existence of institutional racism within the many diverse and inter-locking police authorities at both the federal and state levels. Its existence has, however, been posited by numerous international human rights bodies and many German NGOs working in this field. The research carried out for this report and presented in the following chapters also tends to the conclusion that there are broader structural and attitudinal reasons for some of the failures to investigate, prosecute and sentence hate crimes effectively. In the light of these widely articulated concerns, Amnesty International recommends that the German authorities, at both the state and federal, to carry out a wide ranging, independent, review into the possible existence of structural bias and widespread attitudes, which if not overtly racist or discriminatory, may yet be resulting in failures on the part of police authoritiesto identify and respond effectively to the full range of hate crimes.


[8]. Much of the information included in this chapter about the investigation into the murders draws on the report of the NSU Committee of Inquiry established by the German Federal Parliament on the basis of Article 44 of the German Constitution, Beschlussempfehlung und Bericht des 2. Untersuchungsausschusses nach Artikel 44 des Grundgesetzes, 22 August 2013, (accessed 23 April 2016).

[9]. Interview with Yvonne Boulgarides, 17 September 2014.

[10]. Interview with Yavuz Narin, 24 October 2015.

[11]. Interview with Yvonne Boulgarides.

[12]. Interview with Antonia von der Behrens, 16 November 2015.

[13]. Beschlussempfehlung und Bericht des 2. Untersuchungsausschusses nach Artikel 44 des Grundgesetzes, p. 578.

[14]. Beschlussempfehlung und Bericht des 2. Untersuchungsausschusses nach Artikel 44 des Grundgesetzes, p. 576.

[15]. Interview with Yavuz Narin, 24 October 2015.

[16]. Interview with a lawyer who preferred to remain anonymous. This information is also included in: Christian Fuchs, John Goetz, Die Zelle. Rechter Terror in Deutschland, 2012,

[17]. Interview with Yavuz Narin, 24 October 2015.

[18]. Interview with Yvonne Boulgarides, 17 September 2014.

[19]. Beschlussempfehlung und Bericht des 2. Untersuchungsausschusses nach Artikel 44 des Grundgesetzes, pp. 890-899. The implementation of some of the recommendations is reviewed in Chapter 3.

[20]. Request regarding the establishment of a new Committee of Inquiry, 14 October 2015, (accessed 23 April 2016).

[21]. Some of these informants have been heard in the context of the trial of Beate Zschäpe and four NSU supporters, (interview with Sebastian Scharmer, 13 November 2015).

[22]. Interviews with Sebastian Scharmer, Yavuz Nerin, Ulla Jelpke (MP), 13 November 2015, and with Irene Mihalic (MP), 12 November 2015.

[23]. These included for example Tino Brandt, the leader of the far-right group Thüringisher Heimatschutzes(THS), who was an informant for the Thuringian Office for the Protection of the Constitution (Thüringer Landesamtes für Verfassungsschutz). See the report of the Thuringian Parliament’s Committee of Inquiry into the NSU, Bericht des Untersuchungsausschusses 5/1 “Rechtsterrorismus und Behördenhandeln, 16 July 2014, (accessed 23 April 2016).

[24]. Report by Nils Muižnieks, Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, following his visit to Germany on 24 April and from 4 to 8 May 2015, para. 184,; and CERD Concluding observations on the combined nineteenth to twenty-second periodic reports of Germany (CERD/C/DEU/CO/19-22), advanced unedited version, 15 May 2015, (accessed 23 April 2016).

[25]. The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, February 1999, para. 6.34, (accessed 23 April 2016).

[26]. The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, para. 6.45.

[27]. Institutional racism as exemplified by the case of the terror group “National Socialist Underground” (NSU) and necessary steps to protect individuals and groups against racial discrimination, 7 April 2015, (accessed 23 April 2016).

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