German authorities have raided suspected cells of neo-Nazi militants and arrested four suspects as the country continues a crackdown on far-right extremists.
In what Der Spiegel magazine called “the biggest blow against the militant neo-Nazi scene in the recent past,” the federal prosecutor’s office said more than 1,000 officers raided the homes of 50 suspects in 11 states. .
“The four men arrested are accused of belonging to a far-right criminal organization,” he said in a statement, as well as grievous bodily harm.
Spiegel reported that one of the suspects was a non-commissioned officer in the German armed forces.
The suspects targeted on Wednesday are believed to belong to the far-right martial arts group Knockout 51, the banned group Combat 18 named after the order in the alphabet of Adolf Hitler’s initials, the US division Atomwaffen or the propaganda group online Sonderkommando 1418.
Germany’s centre-left government under Chancellor Olaf Scholz took office in December, promising a decisive fight against far-right activists after criticizing the previous administration’s laxity on neo-Nazi violence.
Nancy Faeser, Germany’s first female interior minister, said on her appointment that her top priority would be tackling the country’s ‘biggest threat: right-wing extremism’ after a series of attacks far-right murderers.
“Our dramatically intensified efforts against violent right-wing extremists are bearing fruit,” she said in a statement on Wednesday.
“Today’s actions show once again that outlaw groups can be a mighty sword in defense of our fundamental democratic order.”
Three of the men were arrested in the eastern town of Eisenach. The fourth was recovered from Rotenburg an der Fulda in central Germany.
The three men arrested in Eisenach are believed to be leading figures of Knockout 51, which prosecutors say “attracts nationalistically-minded young men, indoctrinates them with far-right propaganda and trains them in street fighting” .
He said training sessions allegedly led by Leon R. took place in rooms used by the neo-Nazi NPD party in Eisenach.
Knockout 51 is believed to have links to other far-right groups across Germany, and “as of March 2020 at the latest, focuses on committing serious crimes”.
These include attacks on left-wing activists, the police and “other people who, according to the group’s right-wing extremist and racist worldview, can be combated”.
He said Knockout 51 tried to establish a “Nazi quarter” under his control in Eisenach and last year began conducting “patrols” in which they tried to incite victims to fight them.
Prosecutors said the suspects injured several people, some seriously, in such clashes.
The group is also accused of seeking to demonstrate against government coronavirus restrictions between August 2020 and March 2021 to stage clashes with police and counter-protesters.
Prosecutors said 10 of the suspects targeted on Wednesday were charged with links to the “terrorist organization” Atomwaffen Division Deutschland.
As the German branch of a “racist, anti-Semitic and National Socialist” militant group formed in the United States in 2015, “its goal is to start a ‘race war’ in which the ‘white population’ will emerge victorious”.
He said the group tried to recruit young German men from universities in Berlin and Frankfurt with leaflet campaigns and internet propaganda.
Meanwhile, Sonderkommando 1418 operated primarily as an online discussion group to attract supporters of the establishment of a “neo-fascist system”.
Federal prosecutors this week reported a breakthrough in the investigation into a deadly 30-year-old arson attack on a shelter for asylum seekers with the arrest of a far-right suspect in the western city of Saarlouis.