Munich - After a trial based entirely on circumstantial evidence that lasted more than five years, National Socialist Underground (NSU) member Beate Zschaepe has been found guilty of 10 counts of murder and given life in prison by a German court.
Prosecutors had blamed the murders and two bomb attacks on three individuals who lived for many years together as an underground neo-Nazi cell: Uwe Mundlos, Uwe Boehnhardt and Zschaepe.
Mundlos and Boehnhardt committed suicide on November 4, 2011, after a foiled bank robbery, leaving fellow NSU member Zschaepe to face justice.
Her lawyer Wolfgang Heer said immediately that the verdict and sentence would be appealed at Germany's highest court for criminal and private cases, the Federal Court of Justice in Karlsruhe.
"The conviction of Zschaepe for complicity in the murders and robberies carried out by Boehnhardt and Mundlos is not soundly justifiable. We will file an appeal against the verdict," Heer said.
German Public Prosecutor General Peter Frank said investigations were continuing into the NSU and that the role of those supporting the terrorist group in its murders.
But he added: "To date, we have not found any concrete evidence during our investigations that there was a Germany-wide support network."
In acknowledgement of widespread suspicions that there was more to the NSU than has been uncovered, Frank said: "We will probe new leads if we get them in the course of our investigations."
The Munich Higher Regional Court issued its verdict on Zschaepe, who had been the chief suspect, and four others in relation to the racially motivated series of murders and attacks by the NSU between 2000 and 2007.
Eight Turks, a Greek man and a German police officer were killed.
Court spokesman Florian Gliwitzky said it was unlikely that Zschaepe's release would be considered before she had served 16 years.
However, the court did not impose preventive detention to follow after the sentence has been served.
The long-awaited verdict drew a long queue outside the courthouse, with some even camping overnight to gain one of the 50 seats available to the public in the courtroom.
Some 300 demonstrators gathered outside the court to demand a full investigation into the NSU, as well as a probe into the role of the intelligence services in the case. There was a brief scuffle with police.
A spokeswoman for the organizers said Germans had to confront "racism in our everyday society and in our institutions as well."
Co-defendant Ralf Wohlleben was sentenced to 10 years in prison for supplying a weapon used by the killers in the series of murders. The court found him guilty of aiding and abetting the murders. His lawyers are also to appeal.
A third suspect, identified as Holger G, received a three-year sentence for supporting a terrorist organization. He had admitted handing a weapon to the trio and providing them with forged documents.
A fourth, identified as Andre E, received two years and six months for supporting a terrorist organization as he had helped the NSU trio to go underground. He was not found guilty of aiding attempted murder, as the prosecution had demanded.
The fifth and final suspect, Carsten S, who was underage at the time of the crimes, received a three-year youth detention sentence for aiding and abetting nine of the murders. He had also admitted handing the pistol to the NSU.
The murders were initially brushed off as infighting between immigrant crime gangs. Investigators suspected members of the victims' families of complicity in the crimes. This caused outrage in immigrant communities, who accused the authorities of bungling the case and even covering up a wider neo-Nazi context.
"The verdict helps me. I suffered greatly psychologically. This is a good day," Ozlan Yildirim, whose hairdressing salon was targeted with a nail bomb by the NSU in June 2004, told dpa.
The father of another victim, Halit Yoskat, said the family did not accept the verdict. "For us it's void," Ismail Yoskat said. "The verdict remains a black mark in our hearts."
Many of the families expressed dissatisfaction at the sentences passed on Andre E and Wohlleben, seeing them as too short.
Germany's Turkish community welcomed the verdict but also demanded more people face justice, as did the Central Muslim Council.
They said concentrating on the NSU trio was insufficient and that the involvement of other neo-Nazis and undercover agents from the security authorities had been brushed under the carpet.
"Our trust in state institutions has been deeply shaken," Gokay Sofuoglu, chairman of the Turkish Community in Germany, told dpa ahead of the verdicts.
The Muslim council called for the German government to create the post of anti-racism commissioner, a person who would report annually to parliament about racist crimes and raise the awareness of the police, authorities and public prosecutor about racism in Germany.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said in Istanbul that Germany had "failed the test of sincerity" in the NSU trial, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.
"This verdict is far from satisfactory," Kalin said, adding that Germany had failed to take "a strong enough stance against racism and the racists."
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu demanded investigations to find out if more people were involved.
"It is not enough that the chief suspect is punished. We have to find out and punish too whoever was behind these killings, inside the intelligence, inside the deep state, whichever institutions were part of it," Cavusoglu said in remarks carried by state-run broadcaster TRT.
German opposition politicians have also called for a reform of the security services and further investigations in the case.dpa