The NSU is mostly associated with Uwe Mundlos, Uwe Böhnhardt and Beate Zschäpe, who lived together under false identities. Further associates were identified who supported the core trio in their decade-long underground life and provided them with money, false identities, and weapons.
Unlike other terror groups, the NSU had not claimed responsibility for their actions. The group's existence was only discovered following the deaths of Böhnhardt and Mundlos, and the subsequent arrest of Zschäpe.
So far, the following crimes have been attributed to the NSU: the National Socialist Underground murders, a series of murders of nine immigrants (eight Turks and one Greek) between 9 September 2000 and 6 April 2006; the murder of a policewoman and attempted murder of her colleague; the 2001 and 2004 Cologne bombings; and a series of 14 bank robberies. The Attorney General of Germany called the NSU a "right-wing extremist group whose purpose was to kill foreigners, and citizens of foreign origin".
On 4 November 2011, after a bank robbery in Eisenach, Mundlos and Böhnhardt were found shot dead in a mobile home, which was burning. Police said that the two set the vehicle on fire and killed themselves when their vehicle was found. In that caravan, the service pistol (HK P2000) of murdered police woman Michèle Kiesewetter was found. Some hours later on the same day, their flat in Zwickau, where the trio had lived under false identities, also was set on fire, and an explosion occurred. Beate Zschäpe, the alleged third core member of the terrorist group, is suspected of having caused that. She later turned herself in on advice from her lawyer.
Police found a CZ 83 silenced weapon, which had been used throughout for the Bosphorus serial murders and a number of other guns in the remains of the house. Further, a DVD was found with images of three of the dead persons that had been taken immediately after the killings.
On 13 November 2011, Holger Gerlach, a possible fourth member of the NSU, was arrested and brought the following day before a judge at Germany's Federal Court of Justice, who ordered him to be detained in custody. The German Attorney General's Office wanted Gerlach detained on suspicion of membership in a terrorist group. However the court's investigating judge only authorized Gerlach to be detained on suspicion of supporting a terrorist organization. The Attorney General of Germany also supposed that he had rented a motor caravan for the NSU, which they used for the murder of the policewoman and severe maiming of her colleague, in Heilbronn.
On 24 November 2011, agents from the German federal GSG 9 special police arrested André Eminger in Grabow. Eminger is suspected by the Attorney General of Germany to have produced the propaganda movie mocking the victims of the serial murders and claiming responsibility for the previously unknown NSU.
The discovery that all these mysterious and unsolved high-profile crimes were committed in cold blood by one obscure, previously unknown "Nationalsozialistischer Untergrund" terror group, that went unnoticed for 13 years, plunged Germany into a state of shock, even though right-wing terrorism has historical roots in Germany. After the underlying ideological pattern of the crimes became known by the public, Chancellor Angela Merkel stated on 14 November 2011 that she wanted to consider a ban of the National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) to weaken the power of extremist right-wing groups.
Confusion and uncertainty increased among German citizens when a report by Stern magazine stated that two German confidential informants and two US investigators were eyewitnesses to the murder of the policewoman during their observation of two men who had contact with the "Sauerland" group, an Islamist terror group who planned assaults on US institutions in Germany. On the day of the shooting, one of the men had deposited €2.3 million in a bank in Heilbronn; then he drove to the place where the policewoman was shot. The authenticity of the observation protocol – supposedly from the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) – on which Stern magazine based its report was swiftly denied by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, while the DIA refused to comment. An unnamed U.S. "insider" expert for intelligence matters told Der Spiegel he deemed it unlikely that the DIA could be involved in that type of operation at all; however, the "insider" erroneously described the DIA as an analytic organization, when in fact the agency has been involved in clandestine operations for decades. German and U.S. security circles regard the document as most likely a forgery; Stern magazine did not comment nor declare whether it stood by its story.
Prior to that, it became known that an officer of the Hessian State Office for the Protection of the Constitution was inside the Internet café while the Turkish owner was killed by the NSU terrorists in 2006 in Kassel. This security agent (Andreas Temme) openly held right-wing views, and in his home village he was known by the nickname "Little Adolf". He has since been transferred to an administrative post (outside and unrelated to the agency).
On 23 February 2012, an official state ceremony in commemoration of the victims was broadcast live from Berlin; a nationwide moment of silence was observed and flags were flown at half-mast.
Various German politicians from all parties unanimously urged for a parliamentary enquiry committee, which has been formed and begun its work, to dig deeply into the details of what is widely regarded as growing to one of the biggest scandals concerning domestic security in modern German history. The affair is casting Germany's security apparatus into public disrepute for an obvious, complete failure and is causing sarcastic comments from the press. On 2 July 2012, the President of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Heinz Fromm, resigned from his post shortly after it was revealed that on 12 November 2011, employees, most notably Axel Minrath (code name: Lothar Lingen), of his agency had destroyed files connected with the NSU case immediately after their role in the murders became public and the agency itself had received a formal request from the German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) to forward all information relevant to these crimes. Two more resignations of the presidents of the State Offices for the Protection of the Constitution in Thuringia and Saxony soon were to follow suit.
The original start date on 17 April was cancelled. The trial began on 6 May, but ″the Munich court handling the historic trial of neo-Nazi Beate Zschäpe adjourned proceedings until 14 May after her lawyers accused the presiding judge of being biased.″
On 14 May, Federal Prosecutor Herbert Diemer read out the indictment against Beate Zschäpe. Diemer accused her of involvement in 10 murders and of being a member of a group whose aim was to "commit murder and criminal acts dangerous to public safety" in order to intimidate the public and "wreak major damage to the state." The only purpose of the National Socialist Underground, said Diemer, "was to kill people."
In December 2015 Zschäpe, the only surviving member, broke her silence after 2 1⁄2 years and made a statement, denying that she had been a member of the NSU; although she was involved with members, she herself was not a member and disapproved of their actions. She apologised to victims' families, saying that she felt morally guilty that she could not prevent the murders and bomb attacks carried out by Uwe Mundlos und Uwe Boehnhardt. Few took her apology seriously, with opinions that she was trying to deny her responsibility. Newspaper Bild ran a headline "Zschaepe's confession - nothing but excuses!"
On 11 July 2018, Zschäpe was convicted of murder on ten counts and sentenced to life in prison; the other defendants received prison sentences as well.