BERLIN (AFP) — The trial of an alleged neo-Nazi terrorist cell accused of plotting violent political upheaval in Germany opened Monday amid reports the country’s far-right scene is growing more armed and radical.
Eight members of the so-called Revolution Chemnitz group aged between 21 and 32 will answer to charges of forming a right-wing terrorist organization, according to federal prosecutors.
Almost a year to the day after most of the suspects’ arrest in coordinated raids, the proceedings took place under tight security in Dresden, the capital of Saxony state, a stronghold of the extreme right.
Resentment runs deep in the region over Merkel’s liberal refugee policy that led to the arrival of more than a million asylum seekers to Germany since 2015.
The anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim Alternative for Germany (AfD) party scored 27.5 percent in a state election earlier this month, just shy of the 32 percent garnered by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives.
The suspects are accused of “coming together to achieve their political goals — to shake the foundations of the state — with serious violent acts,” a spokeswoman for the superior regional court said.
They allegedly sought to carry out “violent attacks and armed assaults” against immigrants, political “opponents,” reporters and members of the economic establishment.
Authorities believe the group’s members were trying to acquire semi-automatic weapons for a potential bloodbath last year in Berlin on October 3, Germany’s National Unity Day.
“This is one of the most important trials to date dealing with far-right terrorism,” chief federal prosecutor Peter Frank said.
Security agencies hope the trial, which is set to last until at least April 2020 and hear around 75 witnesses, will reveal what exactly was being plotted and the scope of the network.
A violent ‘test-run’
The defendants belong to the hooligan, neo-Nazi and skinhead scene in and around Chemnitz, another city in Saxony, which was the scene of anti-migrant street violence following the murder of a German man in August last year.
Last month a 24-year-old Syrian man was sentenced to nine-and-a-half years in jail for the knife killing.
In the hours after the stabbing, thousands of people took to the streets in protest, answering calls by the AfD and nationalist group PEGIDA, which campaigns against what it calls the Islamization of the West.
The defendants launched an online chat group under the name Revolution Chemnitz around the same time, in early September 2018.
Prosecutors said that on September 14 five of the suspects “armed with glass bottles, weighted knuckle gloves, and an electroshock appliance, attacked and hurt several foreign residents” in Chemnitz.
“Investigations show that the assault was a test-run for an event that one of the accused planned for October 3, 2018,” they said.
The men reportedly “wanted to achieve more than the National Socialist Underground” or NSU, a neo-Nazi extremist group uncovered in 2011 that murdered 10 people and planted three bombs.
However, authorities say they were able to swoop on the cell before it could carry out its plans.
Most of the men were arrested on October 1, 2018, while their alleged ringleader, 32-year-old electrician Christian Keilberg, was picked up two weeks later for attacking immigrants in Chemnitz.
Dangerous as ‘radical Islamism’
Saxony, a former communist state, has gained notoriety as the home base of several extremist organizations.
Eight members of a far-right outfit called the Freital group were jailed last year on terrorism and attempted murder charges for a series of explosives attacks targeting refugees and anti-fascist activists.
Members of the NSU also evaded police for years in Chemnitz and another Saxon town, Zwickau.
The latest trial comes just three months after the shocking assassination-style murder of local pro-migrant politician Walter Luebcke in the western city of Kassel, allegedly by a known neo-Nazi.
Interior Minister Horst Seehofer this month warned of the rising danger of the militant far right, calling it “as big a threat as radical Islamism.”
At the weekend, Seehofer said that police had uncovered 1,091 weapons including firearms and explosives during probes of crimes linked to the far right last year, far more than in 2017 when 676 were found.