‘A wake-up call’: German politicians react to arrests of alleged right-wing terrorists

The Monday arrests of seven alleged right-wing terrorists once again cast an uncomfortable spotlight on extremism in on the eastern German state of Saxony, where Chemnitz is located and which is a stronghold of the far-party AfD.

'A wake-up call': German politicians react to arrests of alleged right-wing terrorists
A protest of the right-wing group "Pro Chemnitz"

“With the arrests and raids, we are sending a clear signal that we are  identifying and breaking up such right-wing terrorist structures early,” said Saxony interior minister Roland Wöller.

Germany's Justice Minister Katarina Barley highlighted the suspects' links to football hooligan, skinhead and neo-Nazi scenes and warned that “the network under investigation does not stand in isolation.”

Investigators are still trying to determine if the suspects were involved in the wave of xenophobic marches that swept the streets of Chemnitz at the end of August. They followed a fatal stabbing of a 35-year-old German man, allegedly by an asylum seeker.

Prosecutors said that on September 14th in Chemnitz, five of the suspects “armed with glass bottles, weighted knuckle gloves, and an electroshock appliance, attacked and hurt several foreign residents”.

“Investigations show that the assault was a test-run for an event that one of the accused planned for October 3rd, 2018,” or German Unity Day, said prosecutors.

Police are still investigating what exactly was being plotted. More than 100 police officers were deployed to search apartments and other premises.

At least one of the men, Tom W., was convicted 10 years ago over his role as a leader of a violent 50-strong far-right group known as “Sturm 34” in Mittweide, Saxony that was ultimately banned, Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) reported.

Pushing for a plan against right-wing terrorism

Following the arrests, politicians around Germany pressed for a plan in the fight against right-wing terrorism from security authorities and the federal government.

“It is known, for example, that concerts of right-wing rock bands not only serve to finance the scene, but are also an elementary part of radicalization,” stressed Free Democrats (FDP) Interior politician Benjamin Strasser told DPA.

He added that the hang-outs of potential right-wing terrorist cells must also be observed more closely.

Social Democratic (SDP) Federal Family Minister Franziska Giffey also warned against reducing right-wing extremism to east Germany. 

“Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that a stage for right-wing extremists is being set up here more quickly, and that the acceptance of extreme ideas and of the AfD are higher than elsewhere,” she told DPA.

Burkhard Lischka, a spokesman for domestic policy at the SPD parliamentary group, said that the phenomenon of extremism needed to be observed in western Germany as well.

“The scene is perfectly networked. I remember the march of hundreds of right-wing extremists in Dortmund a few days ago, as well as the activities neo-Nazi terrorist group Combat 18 in Schleswig-Holstein, Hesse and North Rhine-Westphalia,” he told the Passauer Neue Presse newspaper on Tuesday.

“Anyone looking at right-wing extremism through local glasses underestimates the real danger,” he added.

The arrests are a “wake up call”, Green faction leader Katrin Göring-Eckardt told the “Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung”, which show how “negligent” parts of the federal government played down the danger from the right.

“Those who rely on right-wing populist rhetoric pave the way for radicalization”, the Green politician told the CSU. The arrests showed how “dangerous the word-thinking after the attacks was.”

A ‘test run’

On September 14th, 15 suspects, who according to testimonies called themselves “vigilantes”, had attacked Iranians and Pakistanis after a rally of the right-wing populist movement Pro Chemnitz. 

The Federal Attorney General now classifies the violence as a “test run” for the plans of the group “Revolution Chemnitz” – several of whose members took part – on German Unity Day.

The group's members – aged between 20 and 31 – are said to have planned further armed attacks on foreigners, political dissenters and journalists. The men aimed to fight by force against the rule of law, and had also attempted to acquire semi-automatic firearms, said investigators.

“They wanted to change the country,” investigators told the SZ.

Citing intercepted chats and telephone calls, SZ reported that the men “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.

In addition to politicians, the group wanted to attack journalists, who they  referred to as “the media dictatorship and its slaves,” the newspaper added.

Saxony has long gained notoriety as the home base of several extremist groups.

Eight members of a far-right outfit called the Freital group were jailed in March on terrorism and attempted murder charges for a series of explosions targeting refugees and anti-fascist activists.

Members of the NSU, responsible for several racist killings, also evaded police for years in Chemnitz and another Saxony town, Zwickau.

Merkel is due to visit Chemnitz in November, but she faces a cold reception. Resentment runs deep in the city over her liberal refugee policy that led to the arrival of more than a million asylum seekers in Germany since 2015.


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Saxony’s Covid rules get mixed reaction from the vaccine hesitant

The eastern German state of Saxony may have ordered tough restrictions on the unvaccinated to push them to get the Covid-19 jab, but shop assistant Sabine Lonnatzsch, 59, is unmoved.

People queue at a vaccination centre in Radeberg, eastern Germany, to get a Covid vaccination without an appointment, on November 8th.
People queue at a vaccination centre in Radeberg, eastern Germany, to get a Covid vaccination without an appointment, on November 8th. Photo: TOBIAS SCHWARZ / AFP

The new rules are “discriminatory” because they are “pushing the unvaccinated further into a corner,” she says. 

Lonnatzsch won’t change her mind about getting inoculated – she just won’t go to restaurants or events anymore.

“I’ve had corona cases in my family and in my eyes it is nothing more than a bad flu,” she says.

With Covid-19 infections rocketing in Germany, Saxony this week became the first to largely exclude unvaccinated people from indoor dining, cinemas and bars.

READ ALSO: Germany divided over Covid restrictions for the unvaccinated 

The new rules, likely to be emulated by other states in the coming weeks, are designed not only to reduce the spread of Covid-19 but also to encourage more people to get inoculated.

But Lonnatzsch is not the only one resisting the jab in the town of Radeberg in Bautzen district, which has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country at just 45.7 percent.

The clothing store No 1 Mode where she works has a sign in the window that lets customers know that all are welcome – regardless of vaccination status.

‘Bad for business’

Across the town square, the co-owner of Cafe Roethig also has no plans to get the vaccine. Like many people in the region, Carola Roethig, 58, is “not convinced” by the jab because “it was developed in such a short space of time”.

The district of Bautzen has one of the highest incidence rates in the country at 645.3 cases per 100,000 people, but Roethig is not worried about catching the virus.

People queue at a vaccination centre in Radeberg, Saxony.
People queue at a vaccination centre in Radeberg, Saxony. Photo: TOBIAS SCHWARZ / AFP

The new rules are “definitely bad for business,” she says at the cafe’s bakery counter, which is lined with untouched fresh cakes, tarts and iced donuts.

“Many of our customers are not vaccinated, so we are losing income, because fewer people are coming in,” she says.


The rules are also bad for her personal life.

“I’m not allowed to go to a restaurant in the evening and have a nice dinner with my husband. I don’t think it is right,” says Roethig.

Outside the cafe, 40-year-old Susan feels the same.

“Nothing would convince me” to get the jab, she says, without giving her last name.

“I see no sense in it because (vaccinated people) can still get the disease and infect others.”

Vaccine push

The new rules come as new infections surge in Germany, with the national incidence rate reaching 213.7 cases per 100,000 people over the past seven
days on Tuesday – a record since the pandemic began.

The political parties looking to form a coalition government after September’s election have so far ruled out compulsory vaccinations and general
lockdowns to tackle the surge.

But with just 67 percent of the population fully jabbed, ministers say encouraging more people to get vaccinated is key to bringing the numbers down.

Outside Radeberg town hall, a modest queue of people formed for a vaccination event organised to encourage more people to get the jab.

Kitchen assistant Mirmirza Kabirzada, 36, had previously hesitated because “I heard that many people died in Norway and others got a fever, so I was a little bit afraid”.

But with the numbers rising so dramatically, “now I realised this is very important,” he says.

AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine has been linked to very rare and potentially fatal blood clots, but experts agree that the benefits far outweigh the risks.

Intensive care nurse Nicole Wieberneit, 39, is waiting in line to get her booster.

She is optimistic that the new rules will encourage more people to get vaccinated.

“When it becomes about the freedom to travel, to go out to eat, I think more people will come forward. Freedom is very important to people in Saxony,” she says.