Berlin - Two Wednesday arrests may be the beginning of the end of a string of arson attacks with alleged racist motives in Neukölln that frustrated investigators and caused a scandal in the Berlin prosecutor's office.
Extremists Sebastian T. and Tilo P. were arrested Wedneday, a source told Berliner Zeitung, as the main suspects. Both are already known to police for their far-right activities.
The prosecutor's office confirmed significant progress has been made in the case.
The suspects have been the focus of the investigation, which involves Berlin investigators as well as a special office for politically and racially motivated crime. Most of the 72 crimes, including an arson attack on the car of local leftwing politician Ferat Kocak, were committed between 2016 and 2018. Twenty acts of arson are also attributed to the pair.
A lack of progress after years of investigation led to the creation of a special investigative committee in 2019 dubbed BAO Fokus. There were also persistent rumours that investigators themselves were somehow involved in the sandbagging of the investigation, culminating in Berlin attorney general Margarete Koppers replacing a top-level prosecutor on the case earlier this year.
Two special investigators were also appointed to speed up the investigation.
The suspects have been the focus for some time and Thilo P. - in reference to the allegations - even reportedly told a police officer: "You know it. I know it. Everyone else knows it."
They faced charges in a Tiergarten court this fall of property damage and the use of symbols of banned organisations. In August 2017, 34-year-old T. and 37-year-old P. are alleged to have posted, among other things, rightwing extremist slogans in public spaces, including Nazi symbols. They also allegedly pasted stickers with the likeness of Rudolf Hess, a top Nazi in the Third Reich.
Even Andreas Geisel (SPD), Berlin's interior minister, admitted in September that investigators were confident about who was committing the crimes.
"There are clear suspicions about who is responsible," Geisel said.
He also acknowledged that there were failures and breakdowns in the investigation. For example, victims were not warned even though the Office for the Protection of the Constitution (the Verfassungsschutz, a domestic intelligence agency) and the police knew they were being spied on by suspected neo-Nazis.
Berlin police chief Barbara Slowik admitted in the fall that the investigating team in Neukölln had been too small and the staff "insufficient."
Bundestag member Martina Renner (Die Linke) welcomed the arrest of the suspects. This is "satisfaction for all those who have suffered from the series of attacks that have been ongoing since 2016 and who have tirelessly pointed out the suspected activities of the two neo-Nazis who have now been arrested," Renner told the Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland (RND).
"Can all the attacks in Neukölln be attributed to these two or just individuals? The question of possible accomplices and supporters must be clarified."
The circle of suspected helpers is limited.
"I expect that the investigating authorities will also act quickly here with the help of the new findings."