By Alexandra Hudson
BERLIN (Reuters) - German security forces shamefully neglected the threat of the far right and their bungled investigations and prejudice enabled a neo-Nazi cell blamed for nine racist murders to go undetected for more than a decade, a parliamentary committee has concluded.
The stinging report came after a 19-month inquiry into the National Socialist Underground (NSU), whose chance discovery in late 2011 scandalized Germany and forced authorities to recognize the far-right fringe was more brutal and organized than previously thought.
Their investigation revealed a multitude of mistakes at all levels, by Germany's patchwork of state and national police, prosecutors and intelligence agencies - and a systematic failure to consider racist motives behind the shootings of eight Turks and a Greek between 2000 and 2007, later attributed to the NSU.
Authorities assumed the killings must be due to feuds within the Turkish underworld and their one-sided investigations led to a series of dead-ends. Victims' families have spoken of their despair at finding themselves the object of suspicion in the midst of their grief.
"Turks murder Turks, that seems to have been the mentality," said Sebastian Edathy, the Social Democrat (SPD) chairman of the committee.
"Changing this will take longer than changing laws... I don't think it is a case of institutional racism, but we do have racists working within the security authorities," he added.
The committee urged state bodies to work together better and said possible racist motives for a crime should always be considered. It recommended that security forces hire more people from ethnic minorities to reflect a multicultural society.
But lawmakers did not find evidence that anyone within the security forces deliberately protected the NSU and helped them avoid detection, though they did recommend new guidelines on the use of informants, after allegations that officers were often more interested in protecting informants than pursuing leads.
Beate Zschaepe, the only suspected member of the NSU who is still alive, went on trial in Munich in May. She is charged with complicity in the shooting of eight Turks, a Greek and a German policewoman, two bombings in immigrant areas of Cologne and 15 bank robberies.
Her two presumed male accomplices both committed suicide in 2011. Zschaepe faces life imprisonment.
The case shook a society that believed it had learned the lessons of the past, as well as undermining the trust of the migrant community in the German state's security apparatus.
"The only way to win back this trust is through the detailed and comprehensive study of these murders. The inquiry by the parliamentary committee makes a key contribution to this," said Maria Boehmer, minister of state for migrants.
The existence of the NSU came to light in November 2011 when the two men believed to have founded the cell with Zschaepe, Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Boehnhardt, committed suicide after a botched bank robbery and set their caravan ablaze.
In the charred vehicle, police found the gun used in all 10 murders and a grotesque DVD claiming responsibility for them.
Zschaepe has kept silent since her arrest, leaving people struggling to make sense of her motives and to understand how an ordinary teenager could sink so deeply into the neo-Nazi scene.
The head of the domestic intelligence agency (BfV) resigned last year after it emerged that files on the use of informers were destroyed after the NSU's discovery. The BfV was singled out for failing to analyze the threat posed by the far right.
(Reporting by Alexandra Hudson; Editing by Stephen Brown)