A small band of ruthless neo-Nazis suspected in at least 10 killings may have had a previous link to a slain policewoman, according to new details that emerged about the group Tuesday.
Authorities had gathered enough evidence to believe the far right group had a personal connection to the policewoman, Michele Kiesewetter, killed in 2007, federal police president Joerg Ziercke said.
Among the clues was information that Kiesewetter's family had at one point tried to rent a pub in a small eastern German town. The lease went instead to a man connected to the neo-Nazi group.
Ziercke said at the moment further details of the circumstances and connections remained unclear and were a focus of the ongoing investigation.
Still, Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich was quoted in Bild newspaper as saying it now appeared at least that "the policewoman was not killed coincidentally in 2007 by the neo-Nazis."
In addition to Kiesewetter, the group is suspected of killing eight people of Turkish origin, one person with Greek roots and is being investigated further as possibly being behind several other crimes.
Two people have been arrested: a suspected co-founder of the group _ 36-year-old Beate Zschaepe _ and an alleged supporter, identified only as 37-year-old Holger G. She is charged with membership in a terrorist organization, and he with supporting the organization. Neither has yet been charged with murder.
Two other suspected founding members, Uwe Boehnhardt, 34, and Uwe Mundlos, 38, appear to have killed themselves in a jointly planned suicide earlier this month as police closed in on the mobile home where they were hiding after pulling off a bank heist, Ziercke said.
Authorities now believe there were nine others who belonged to, or supported the group. They are investigating four of the alleged supporters.
Ziercke said autopsy results indicate that Mundlos first killed Boehnhardt before setting fire to the vehicle, then turning the gun on himself. Authorities believe the pairs' deaths had been carefully plotted in conjunction with Zschaepe, who hours later torched the apartment they had shared in the eastern city of Zwickau.
In the mobile home, investigators found Kiesewetter's service pistol, as well as that of her fellow officer who was injured in the fatal attack on her.
In Parliament on Tuesday, Speaker Norbert Lammert acknowledged the widespread criticism of authorities for apparently letting the gang slip through their fingers for years.
"We are ashamed that the German security services neither found nor stopped the group as they planned and carried out their crimes over the years," he said, while pledging to do "everything possible" to investigate the case and to institute measures to prevent a repeat.
Critics have charged that Germany's domestic intelligence agency and police forces have been too focused on Islamic and leftist extremism, allowing the neo-Nazis to operate unchecked.
Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger rejected that, however, saying the security forces had been "blind in no eye."
Friedrich told Parliament that work was progressing on a plan to centralize reporting on rightist extremism from Germany's 32 separate state police and intelligence agencies _ a change that has been effectively carried out in the fight against Islamic extremism.
In the meantime, he called on Germans to be vigilant in reporting any acts of extremism that they may encounter, saying that not just security forces, but "the entire society is responsible" for stopping it.
"These murders were not just attacks on people, they were attacks ... on our democracy," Friedrich said.
Melissa Eddy contributed to this report.