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Update: German far-right group ‘planned Christchurch-style mosque attacks’

Members of a German extreme right group arrested last week were believed to have been plotting "shocking" large-scale attacks on mosques similar to the ones carried out in New Zealand last year, a government spokesman said Monday.

Update: German far-right group 'planned Christchurch-style mosque attacks'
Members of the special task force in Plochingen, Baden-Württemberg during a police operation earlier this month. Photo: DPA

Officials said that investigations into 12 men detained in police raids across Germany Friday had indicated they planned major attacks, following media reports over the weekend the group aimed to launch several simultaneous mass-casualty assaults on Muslims during prayers.

“It's shocking what has been revealed here, that there are cells here that appear to have become radicalised in such a short space of time,” Interior Ministry spokesman Björn Grünewälder told reporters at a Berlin press  conference.

“It is the task of the state, and of course of this government, to protect free practice of religion in this country, with no reference to what religion it might be,” Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert said.

“Anyone practising their religion in Germany within our legal order should be able to do so without being endangered or threatened”.

According to media reports, the group planned to use semi-automatic weapons to imitate last March's attacks in Christchurch in New Zealand in which 51 people were killed at two mosques.
 

The alleged leader of the group, which was known to the authorities and had been under observation, had detailed his plans at a meeting organised with his accomplices last week.

READ ALSO: Police raid far-right group in six German states over 'attack plans'

Investigators learned about it from someone who had infiltrated the group.

Prosecutors said Friday they had launched early morning raids to determine whether the suspects already had weapons or other supplies that could be used in an attack.

German authorities have turned increased attention to the country's underground extreme right scene since the murder of conservative local politician Walter Luebcke last June and an October attack on a synagogue in eastern city Halle.

READ ALSO: 'A new strategy': How Germany is stepping up fight against far-right extremism

Interior minister Horst Seehofer announced in December 600 new posts across the federal police and domestic security services to track far-right extremist threats, citing a growing danger.

At the time, police said they had identified 48 people on the extreme right as “dangerous” individuals who could carry out an attack.

 

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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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