Monday, 21 November 2011

Mysterious killings

In the last week, Germany has been gripped by the revelation that a group of neo-Nazis responsible for killing at least 10 people, a string of bank robberies and two nail-bomb attacks was able to act with apparent impunity for 13 years. Among the most striking details to emerge is that a member of the country's own intelligence service was present when two members of the National Socialist Underground (NSU) shot dead a 21-year-old Turkish man in an internet café.

The story has uncomfortable echoes of a mysterious series of fatal crimes committed in Belgium in the early 1980s. Between 1982 and 1985, 28 people were killed in at least 16 armed robberies on supermarkets, restaurants and, in one case, a jeweller's; the perpetrators rarely stole all the money available to them and only in an attack on an arms dealer seem to have focused on the outcome of their acts. No one has ever been convicted of the crimes.

Any number of theories exist to explain this bizarre outbreak of violence, including Mafia gun-running and neo-Nazi terror cells. Many argue that the gang - variously named the Nijvel or Brabant killers, after the area in which most of the offences took place - intended to destabilise the Belgian government, while others have suggested they were a 'stay behind' Gladio-style operation intended to act against the rise of communism in western Europe. Given Belgium's notorious recent history of underage-sex crime, still others link the killings to paedophile gangs.

As with the NSU in Germany, the fact that nobody has been tried for the offences has lead many to speculate on high-ranking government, military or police connivance. The Nijvel gang's final act was also their most violent: on 9 November 1985 they killed eight people and injured several others in a raid on a supermarket. They were never heard of again.

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