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POLICE

How Germany plans to crack down on dangerous far-right extremists

Security authorities say there are more than 40 dangerous far-right extremists in Germany. Here's how they want to crack down on potential attackers.

How Germany plans to crack down on dangerous far-right extremists
Archive photo shows a swastika crossed out on a sign in Saxony. Photo: DPA

Following a deadly shooting in Halle last week in which a synagogue was targeted, Germany has stepped up security across the country.

Now the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) has warned that 43 right-wing extremists are at risk of committing an attack in Germany – 10 more than at the beginning of the year, reported Spiegel on Tuesday.

“Far-right crimes endanger our democracy,” warned BKA chief Holger Münch. “The situation is serious.”

In addition to foreigners and the Jewish community, politicians and other public figures are also being targeted by far-right extremists.

Last week Stephen Balliet, 27, confessed to the anti-Semitic attack at a synagogue in the eastern German city of Halle ​​​​​​that left two people dead.

READ ALSO: 'It doesn't change my feeling about Germany': Jewish community fearful but defiant after Halle attack

It came three months after the assassination-style murder of pro-migrant politician Walter Lübcke in the western city of Kassel, allegedly by a known neo-Nazi.

Lübcke's killing shook Germany, raising questions about whether it has failed to take seriously a rising threat from far-right extremists.

Investigators have been probing the extent of suspect Stephan Ernst's neo-Nazi ties and whether he had links to the far-right militant cell National Socialist Underground (NSU).

Focus on social networks, gaming platforms and messaging services

In order to counteract far-right acts of terrorism, security authorities want to increase the surveillance of agitators and potential perpetrators on the Internet, and restrict the activities of known groups. 

Social networks, gaming platforms and messenger services are increasingly being misused by extremists as communication spaces to spread damaging images and discuss crimes, said Thomas Haldenwang, the president of Germany's domestic intelligence service, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV).

Haldenwang added that intelligence services would not be able to uncover every single case but that they should do everything possible to monitor Internet activity more effectively.

People lay tributes outside the synagogue in Halle last week. Photo: DPA

Last week Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said there are an estimated 24,000 far right extremists in Germany. He added that half of them are considered potentially violent with “a very high affinity for firearms.”

READ ALSO: German government warns of elevated risk of far-right attacks after anti-Semitic shooting

“The virtual globalization of far-right terrorism and a new type of perpetrator who is both an imitator and wants to generate imitators pose new challenges for the security authorities,” said Haldenwang, recalling the attacks in Christchurch in New Zealand and El Paso in America.

“Virtual groups can form situational networks that are much more orientated around action and heterogeneous in their composition than has been the case with rigid far-right extremist organizations so far.”

Demands for mores staff

As well as combing the Internet more intensively than before for indications of the radicalization of individual extremists, the intelligence service and police want to analyze groups belonging to the so-called “New Right” – which include, for example, the Identitarian Movement (Identitäre Bewegung).

They also want to increase the pressure on far-right extremist groups through weapons and tax law measures in cooperation with other authorities.

While Germany is one of the most difficult countries to acquire a gun, extremists often turn to the black market or underground suppliers.

The domestic intelligence service says it plans to bring in around 300 new members of staff to carry out these tasks.

Meanwhile, the Criminal Police Office has requested 440 additional positions.

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POLICE

German police under fire for using tracing app to find witnesses

German police drew criticism Tuesday for using an app to trace contacts from bars and restaurants in the fight against the pandemic as part of an investigation.

A barcode used for the Luca check-in app to trace possible Covid contacts at a Stuttgart restaurant.
A barcode used for the Luca check-in app to trace possible Covid contacts at a Stuttgart restaurant. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Marijan Murat

The case stemming from November last year began after the fatal fall of a man while leaving a restaurant in the western city of Mainz.

Police seeking possible witnesses made use of data from an app known as Luca, which was designed for patrons to register time spent in restaurants and taverns to track the possible spread of coronavirus.

Luca records the length of time spent at an establishment along with the patron’s full name, address and telephone number – all subject to Germany’s strict data protection laws.

However the police and local prosecutors in the case in Mainz successfully appealed to the municipal health authorities to gain access to information about 21 people who visited the restaurant at the same time as the man who died.

After an outcry, prosecutors apologised to the people involved and the local data protection authority has opened an inquiry into the affair.

“We condemn the abuse of Luca data collected to protect against infections,” said the company that developed the Luca app, culture4life, in a statement.

It added that it had received frequent requests for its data from the authorities which it routinely rejected.

Konstantin von Notz, a senior politician from the Greens, junior partners in the federal coalition, warned that abuse of the app could undermine public trust.

“We must not allow faith in digital apps, which are an important tool in the fight against Covid-19, to disappear,” he told Tuesday’s edition of Handelsblatt business daily.

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