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Realising the game was up, Zschaepe allegedly set fire to a flat she shared with the men in Zwickau, 180 kilometres away, and fled, after asking a neighbour to look after her cats Heidi and Lilly. Four days later she turned herself in to police in Jena.
In the charred remnants of the caravan police found the gun used to murder all 10 victims. They also found a grotesque DVD presenting the NSU and claiming responsibility for the killings. In it the bodies of the murder victims are pictured while a cartoon Pink Panther tots up the number of dead.
Photos of the trio as rebellious looking teenagers, or on holiday at the Baltic Sea have mesmerised and horrified the public. They appear so normal.
For their victims’ families, who for years were suspected by police of being linked to the murders themselves, learning the truth has brought scant comfort.
Since the cell was uncovered there have been a stream of revelations about how authorities missed chances to apprehend the gang, bungled investigations, failed to share information with each other, and displayed an entrenched disregard for the far-right threat.
“Police and domestic intelligence are not institutionally racist, but there are racists working for them,” said Sebastian Edathy, the Social Democrat lawmaker leading a parliamentary inquiry into the NSU.
Authorities had focused resources on Islamists, and at times appeared more concerned with protecting their informers than the general public, he added.
In the wake of the NSU’s discovery, Germany’s domestic intelligence agencies are undergoing an overhaul.