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CRIME

German police investigate death threats against pro-vaccine politician

German police and special forces on Wednesday launched an operation in the eastern city of Dresden after death threats were issued against a top politician who backed coronavirus vaccines, authorities said.

Saxony special forces raid in Dresden
Saxony special forces police conduct a raid on a house in Dresden believed to have a connection with death threats against CDU politician Michael Kretschmer on December 15th, 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Robert Michael

The security forces in Saxony acted following the threats from an anti-vaccine group against Saxony state premier Michael Kretschmer.

“Statements from certain members of the group suggested they might have real weapons,” police said in a statement.

Last week, special forces officials announced that a Telegram chat group called ‘Dresden Offline Connection’ was involved.

In their communication and in conversations at secret and partly openly filmed meetings in the greater Dresden area, there had been statements about assassination plans concerning Kretschmer and other representatives of the state government.

An investigation was opened after journalists from public broadcaster ZDF infiltrated the Telegram chat and reported on December 7th that there were death threats allegedly issued against Kretschmer.

ZDF revealed the contents of messages allegedly involving a hundred members of the chat group “linked by their opposition to vaccines, to the state and the current health policies”, the prosecutor said.

Audio messages called for opposing “if necessary with weapons” the Covid measures in place, targeting politicians — Kretschmer in particular.

Authorities suspected “the preparation of a violent crime that threatens the state”, Saxony police said on Twitter.

Anti-vaccination movement 

A large movement has emerged in Germany against health restrictions imposed during the Covid-19 pandemic.

It is particularly strong in Saxony, in former East Germany, one of the regions worst hit by the resurgent coronavirus and where the vaccination rate is lower than the national average.

At the beginning of December, protestors gathered outside the house of the Saxony state minister of health with torches and whistles, a demonstration which was condemned by politicians.

Michael Kretschmer
Saxony state premier Michael Kretschmer (CDU) leaves the state chancellery on November 30th, 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Sebastian Kahnert

READ ALSO: Germany’s new government condemns ‘aggressive’ anti-vax movement

In the midst of a strong fourth wave of the virus, the German government decided to strengthen restrictions on unvaccinated people, banning them from public venues, restaurants and non-essential commerce.

Compulsory vaccination could be voted on by the German parliament in the coming weeks, with the obligation to get the jab coming into force in February or March.

The number of individuals opposed to the health restrictions and prepared to use violence was between 15,000 and 20,000, Social Democrat security expert Sebastian Fiedler said on Tuesday in an interview with the German daily Bild.

Telegram should ‘eliminate hate and agitation’

The news also comes amid growing calls for action against Telegram.

Speaking to the Augsburger Allgemeine on Wednesday, Bavarian state premier Markus Söder said the encrypted messaging service was becoming a central route for hate and agitation on the internet.

“First of all, one has to make the clear demand to Telegram to eliminate hate and agitation and also make it legally binding,” he said. “Should that service then not agree to help, then there are also ways to block it.” 

READ ALSO: German protests against Covid restrictions turn nasty

The Federal Office of Justice categorises Telegram as a social network, rather than a simple messaging service – meaning that it falls under the same regulations as Facebook and Twitter. Under these laws, criminal content should be blocked or deleted quickly.

According to the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, supporters of the Covid-denier scene often use the service to spread their messages and mobilise for demonstrations and events.

By Sebastien Ash, with additional reporting by The Local

Vocabulary 

Special forces – (die) Spezialkräfte

Death threats – (die) Morddrohungen 

Encrypted – verschlüsselt 

Legally binding – rechtlich verbindlich

We’re aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.

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CRIME

German police foil teenage school ‘Nazi attack’

German investigators said Thursday they foiled a school bomb attack, as they arrested a 16-year-old who is suspected to have been planning a "Nazi terror attack".

German police foil teenage school 'Nazi attack'

“The police prevented a nightmare,” said Herbert Reul, interior minister of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) state.

Police in the city of Essen had stormed the teen’s room overnight, taking him into custody and uncovering 16 “pipe bombs”, as well as anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim material.

Some of the pipe bombs found contained nails, but officers did not find any detonators, Reul said.

There are “indications suggesting the young man has serious psychiatric problems and suicidal thoughts,” said Reul.

Material found so far in the suspect’s room include his own writing which constituted “a call for urgent help by a desperate young man.”

The suspect was allegedly planning to target his current school or another where he studied previously.

“All democrats have a common task to fight against racism, brutalisation and hate,” said NRW’s deputy premier Joachim Stamp, as he thanked police for “preventing a suspected Nazi terror attack”.

The suspect is being questioned while investigators continue to comb his home for evidence.

Investigators believe that he was acting alone.

They had been tipped off by another teen who informed them that the young man “wanted to place bombs in his school”, located about 800 metres from his home.

The school, as well as another institution, were closed on Thursday as investigators undertook fingertip searches as the locations to ensure that no bombs had been placed on site.

‘Neo-Nazi networks’ 

Germany has been rocked by several far-right assaults in recent years, sparking accusations that the government was not doing enough to stamp out neo-Nazi violence.

In February 2020 a far-right extremist shot dead 10 people and wounded five others in the central German city of Hanau.

Large amounts of material championing conspiracy theories and far-right ideology were subsequently found in the gunman’s apartment.

And in 2019, two people were killed after a neo-Nazi tried to storm a synagogue in Halle on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur.

Germany’s centre-left-led government under Chancellor Olaf Scholz took office in December pledging a decisive fight against far-right militants and investigators in April carried out country-wide raids against “neo-Nazi networks”, arresting four suspects.

The suspects targeted in the raids were believed to belong to the far-right martial arts group Knockout 51, the banned Combat 18 group named after theorder in the alphabet of Adolf Hitler’s initials, US-based Atomwaffen (Atomic) Division or the online propaganda group Sonderkommando 1418.

German authorities were also battling to clean extremists from within their ranks. Last year, the state of Hesse said it was dissolving Frankfurt’s elite police force after several officers were accused of participating in far-right online chats and swapping neo-Nazi symbols.

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