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High-profile neo-Nazi murder trial opens in Germany

Justice SystemCrime, Law and JusticeHomicideGermanyTheftMalaysiaAngela Merkel

BERLIN -- The surviving member of an alleged neo-Nazi cell accused of a string of racially motivated murders went on trial Monday in a case that has forced Germany to confront the extent to which racism continues to pervade society here.

Beate Zschaepe, 38, is accused of complicity in the murder of eight Turks, a Greek and a policewoman between 2000 and 2007. Her trial in Munich is expected to raise questions about the failings of security services and police, who suspected the slain immigrants of having connections to organized crime and failed to pursue tips about a far-right gang.

[Updated 9:33 a.m. PDT, May 6: Late Monday, the trial was adjourned to May 14 after defense lawyers accused the presiding judge, Manfred Goetzl, of bias. Zschaepe has complained that her lawyers are being searched as they enter the court building although prosecutors, judges and court staff members are not.]

Zschaepe is also accused of involvement in at least two nail bombings and 15 bank robberies carried out by two alleged accomplices, Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Boenhardt, who died in an apparent suicide pact in 2011 after a bank robbery went wrong.

Following their deaths -- and an explosion at a suspected "safe house" used by the gang in Zwickau in eastern Germany -- police discovered DVDs in which the cell introduced itself as the National Socialist Underground. The DVDs showed the Pink Panther cartoon character going on a tour of Germany, counting off the murder victims. Some of the bodies had been photographed soon after their deaths.

Police and intelligence services have been criticized for failing to share information and to pursue tips. Victims' families were told by police that their loved ones may have gotten involved in drug smuggling.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has apologized to victims' families and acknowledged official failings. In an interview with the German newspaper Die Welt ahead of the trial, Semiya Simsek, daughter of one of the victims, Enver Simsek, said: "Prejudices against foreigners and Turks are deeply rooted in the mind. These impressions have influenced the investigations over the years and steered them in the wrong direction."

Video showed Zschaepe entering the court Monday in a dark suit.

She goes on trial alongside four men accused of assisting the cell. Ralf Wohleben, 38, and Carsten Schultze, 33, allegedly supplied the gang with weapons and silencers. Andre Eminger, 33, is accused of being an accessory in two of the bank robberies and a bombing in the old town of the city of Cologne. Holger Gerlach, 39, is accused of supporting a terrorist organization.

Zschaepe's lawyers have said she will remain silent during the trial, which is expected to last two years.

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Justice SystemCrime, Law and JusticeHomicideGermanyTheftMalaysiaAngela Merkel
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