German army to suspend elite force member due to far-right, Nazi ties

Suspect, investigated over extremism, allegedly hosted party at which two other soldiers made Nazi salute, which is illegal in Germany

Illustrative: Soldiers of the Special Forces (KSK) of the German army show an exercise in Calw, southwestern Germany, February 5, 2004. (Thomas Kienzle/AP/File)
Illustrative: Soldiers of the Special Forces (KSK) of the German army show an exercise in Calw, southwestern Germany, February 5, 2004. (Thomas Kienzle/AP/File)

BERLIN, Germany — The German army is due to suspend a member of its elite KSK force on suspicion of far-right extremism, local media reported Sunday, in a new scandal to hit the armed forces.

Bild am Sonntag newspaper said the army has been covertly investigating him and two other soldiers and was prompted to take action against the man after its probe leaked.

Of the other two suspects, one has been stripped of the right to wear a German army uniform while the other has been classed as a suspicious case.

Both had allegedly made the banned Hitler salute during a private party hosted by the suspect, who is to be suspended next week, according to the newspaper.

The elite KSK is charged with the sensitive and risky missions including hostage rescue operations or anti-terror action abroad.

But suspicions that some members are far-right-leaning have always plagued the force.

The head of the military’s counter-intelligence service, Christof Gramm, had said that there are around 20 suspicious cases at the KSK.

In 2017, German federal police uncovered an alleged plot by far-right extremists, some of who were in the KSK, to assassinate left-wing politicians and asylum seekers. Their targets reportedly included Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, Green Party leader Claudia Roth, and the former president Joachim Gauck.

The armed forces have, over the years, repeatedly come under fire thanks to embarrassing associations with Germany’s militaristic past.

Last year, then-defense minister Ursula von der Leyen ordered the military to cleanse itself of all links to the Wehrmacht, after learning that steel helmets and memorabilia of the Nazi-era army were openly displayed at one of its barracks.

She also ordered barracks still named after World War II figures, like field marshal Erwin Rommel, to be stripped of their names.

Last week, the German army apologized for posting a photo on Instagram of a military uniform complete with two Iron Crosses bearing the Nazi swastika and appearing to celebrate it as “retro.”

After media reports sparked outrage, the army removed the picture of the Nazi-era Wehrmacht uniform and explained that it was an “unacceptable mistake.”

The Bundeswehr said it was seeking to do a photo-essay on the influence of military uniforms on fashion through the ages but failed to provide the correct historical context in its captions.

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