Germany wakes up to threat from far right


Investigators conducted 700 inquiries into Islamic and left-wing extremists, compared to 13 into the extreme right, writes DEREK SCALLYin Berlin

FOR 14 years, the underground neo-Nazi gang shot and bombed its way through Germany’s immigrant neighbourhoods. A week after the cell was exposed, Germany is facing its own 9/11 question: how many deaths did the National Socialist Underground commit and did investigators ignore warning signs?

Just three members of the National Socialist Underground (NSU) have been identified so far and only one is still alive.

Beate Zschäpe (36) turned herself in to police last weekend after two NSU members, men in their 30s who were responsible for a series of bank robberies, shot themselves last week in their mobile home hideout.

So far the NSU has been linked to at least 10 murders of kebab shopowners in the last decade as well as a 2004 nail-bomb attack in Cologne’s Turkish neighbourhood.

Although most of the killings and the robberies were committed with the same weapon – a Czech Ceszka pistol with silencer – state investigators have only now linked killings carried out from Rostock in the north to Munich in the south.

As investigators examine possible links to further killings, they say they have exposed a cell of about 180 people who funded and helped hide NSU members.

On Friday, Germany’s interior minister Hans-Peter Friedrich hauled in national and federal investigators to ask how such a well-organised campaign could have been carried out despite an extensive web of paid informers in the neo-Nazi scene.

A chastened Friedrich emerged with an uncomfortable message – authorities had underestimated for years the size and danger posed by Germany’s right-wing extremist scene.

“This is the conclusion at which we have to arrive,” Friedrich admits in this morning’s Der Spiegel. “On September 11th, something happened that experts couldn’t have imagined. I don’t want to compare the two but we are now coming on things in the right- wing extremist scene that we never thought possible.”

Although clearly not on the same scale, the parallels with 9/11 are clear. Preliminary investigations have exposed a pattern of intelligence officers in Germany’s 16 federal states being unable or unwilling to share information with each other.

Even federal investigators have come under fire: in the last decade they have launched 700 investigations into Islamic and left-wing extremists compared to just 13 into those with a suspected extreme-right or neo-Nazi background.

Two decades after neo-Nazis burned asylum seeker homes in eastern Germany, shocked federal authorities have created another committee to force intelligence forces to pool information.

The Antonio Amadeu Foundation, a support network for victims of extreme-right violence, holds files on 182 killings with an extreme-right background since 1990, compared to an official figure of just 47.

“It’s clear that extreme-right connections are too often simply ignored by the authorities,” said Anetta Kahane, head of the Amadeu Antonio Foundation.

“The authorities say that if a neo-Nazi kills a black man but is not, for instance, heard shouting ‘Heil Hitler’ at the crime scene, then there might have been another motive.”

She has dismissed calls for a ban on the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party party (NPD), saying Germany’s extreme right scene is “driven by such a militant, criminal energy that a ban wouldn’t bother them”.

Green Party co-leader Cem Özdemir has accused the government of media-driven “actionism”, a year after agreeing radical funding cuts to extreme-right victim groups.

“We have situations in rural eastern regions – not exclusively but to a large extent – where neo- Nazi groups have established an extreme-right hegemony,” said Özdemir, the German-born son of Turkish immigrants.

“At election time, other parties don’t even put up posters, so all you see is the NPD.”