Germany saw resurgence of far-right killings, violence before synagogue attack

White supremacists and neo-Nazis have been targeting immigrants and pro-immigration politicians, stockpiling weapons; officials say threat as great as Islamic extremism

Far-right extremists gather to commemorate the death of Adolf Hitler's deputy, Rudolf Hess, in Berlin's western district of Spandau, Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017. (Maurizio Gambarini/dpa via AP)
Far-right extremists gather to commemorate the death of Adolf Hitler's deputy, Rudolf Hess, in Berlin's western district of Spandau, Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017. (Maurizio Gambarini/dpa via AP)

FRANKFURT AM MAIN, Germany (AFP) — Ater a heavily-armed man shot two people dead, one of them outside a synagogue, in the eastern German city Halle, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said there were “signs of a far-right extremist background” to the attack.

In recent decades there has been a resurgence of far-right and neo-Nazi violence in Germany with a number of bloody attacks.

National Socialist Underground

The National Socialist Underground (NSU), active in the early 2000s, has become a byword for authorities’ failure to take right-wing terror seriously.

Investigators for years blamed a string of violent killings against immigrants on clan violence rather than racism — labeling them the “doener (kebab) murders”.

In fact, the murders of nine Turkish and Greek immigrants and a German policewoman were committed by a far-right extremist trio.

Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed “shame” for the bungled probe.

Two of the NSU members — Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Boenhardt — killed themselves in an apparent suicide pact in 2011, while third member Beate Zschaepe was last year jailed for life on 10 counts of murder.

After Zschaepe’s sentencing, politicians and others familiar with the case warned that accomplices were likely still on the loose.

Political murder

Police in June arrested a 45-year-old man suspected of shooting dead a local politician in Hesse state, Walter Luebcke, who was a member of Merkel’s conservative CDU party.

Videos of Luebcke defending the chancellor’s 2015 decision to leave the borders open to refugees had circulated among far-right groups online.

In this Tuesday, July 2, 2019 photo the suspect Stephan E., center, is escorted to a helicopter in Karlsruhe, Germany. German prosecutors say a far-right extremist arrested over the killing of a regional politician from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party is also now suspected in the attempted killing of an Iraqi asylum-seeker. (Uli Deck/dpa via AP,)

Police say the man arrested may also have attempted to murder an Iraqi asylum seeker with a knife in 2016, and has links to the neo-Nazi movement.

After the Luebcke murder, the interior minister announced hundreds of new police and security jobs dealing with far-right terrorism, saying the danger was as serious as Islamic extremism.

Other pro-refugee politicians have also fallen victim to attacks and narrowly escaped with their lives.

Cologne mayor Henriette Reker was almost fatally stabbed in 2015, while Altena mayor Andreas Hollstein also survived a knife attack two years later.

Revolution Chemnitz

The trial began last month of a neo-Nazi group, “Revolution Chemnitz”, accused of plotting a violent uprising from the Saxon city of the same name.

Eight members aged between 21 and 32 were charged with “forming a right-wing terrorist organisation”.

They allegedly sought to acquire weapons and carry out “deadly attacks” against immigrants, political “opponents”, reporters and members of the economic establishment.

The defendants belong to the hooligan, neo-Nazi and skinhead scene in and around Chemnitz and said they wanted to make the NSU look like a “kindergarten group” in comparison.

Far-right groups protest in Chemnitz, eastern Germany, Friday, Sept.7, 2018, after several nationalist groups called for marches protesting the killing of a German man allegedly by migrants from Syria and Iraq. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)

Also in Saxony, eight members of a far-right outfit called the Freital group last year were jailed on terrorism and attempted murder charges for explosives attacks targeting refugees and anti-fascist activists.

They modified pyrotechnics bought in the neighboring Czech Republic for five explosives attacks between July and November 2015, striking refugee homes, an office and a car of far-left Die Linke politicians and a Dresden left-wing residential complex.

Growing weapons finds

Seehofer last month warned that “the growing number of weapons and similar objects seized from far-right criminals is alarming”.

His ministry had just released figures showing 563 crimes with a far-right motive were recorded in 2018, including 235 violent ones.

Police found a total of 1,091 weapons, from rifles and pistols to knives and pepper spray, while investigating the perpetrators — up from 676 the year before.

It was a sign of a “massive build-up of arms among the far-right scene”, extremism expert Matthias Quent told public broadcaster ARD.

Numerous weapons and items with banned Nazi symbols are on display during a news conference of police in Bamberg, Germany, Thursday Oct. 22, 2015. German police have foiled a far-right plot to attack refugee shelters in Bavaria amid growing violence against migrants(Nicolas Armer/dpa via AP)

“They aim to intimidate society and drive out certain groups of people. Parts of the scene even want a civil war,” he added.

Media, prosecutors and security services are investigating suspicions of far-right networks inside the German army.

The MAD military counterintelligence service has been reorganized and had several hundred posts added, partly in response to more frequent reports of dangerous groups.

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