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A neo-Nazi group suspected of committing a string of murders and bank robberies across Germany likely had more assistance than currently known, a German lawmaker with access to still-classified material on the case said Wednesday.
Sebastian Edathy, who heads a parliamentary inquiry into why security services failed to stop the group for more than a decade, said the self-styled National Socialist Underground couldn't have carried out two bombings, 10 murders and more than a dozen bank heists without a support network.
The crimes took place between 1998 and 2011, when two of the three core members of the group died in an apparent murder-suicide. The surviving core member, Beate Zschaepe, and four alleged accomplices go on trial April 17.
"If you live underground for 13 years in a country like Germany, if you depend on logistical help to carry out crimes, then you will probably have had to draw on a network of supporters," Edathy told reporters in Berlin.
Germany's chief federal prosecutor Harald Range said last month that authorities believe the three were an "isolated group" without a nationwide network of helpers.
But many in Germany and abroad - eight of the victims were of Turkish origin and one was Greek - have questioned how the group could have committed so many murders across Germany, as well as the bank robberies and bomb attacks, without further help.
There also are concerns that police may have missed earlier opportunities to nab the trio, who in years past had been sought for lesser infractions.
In one instance, security services in the eastern state of Brandenburg failed to act on an informant's tip about the trio's whereabouts shortly after they went on the lam in 1998, Edathy said. The informant's handlers were afraid that passing the information to officers searching for the group might compromise their agent, he said.
"So far we have no evidence that there was any sort of support or tolerance of these three by the authorities," Edathy said. "But I personally believe that there were more people working for the state than are known so far who were close to the trio."
Edathy's panel is due to deliver its report to parliament in August, a month before the country's general election. Government officials have insisted they want to do everything to clear up the case, which has strained relations with Turkey and Germany's sizeable Turkish minority.
Edathy said he believes authorities failed to nab the group because Germany's 36 different security services didn't cooperate properly, had a tendency to downplay the threat of far-right terrorism, and some officers appeared to be biased against immigrants, who were the initial focus of investigations.