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POLICE

Germany identifies 439 suspects in paedophile probe

More than 400 suspected paedophiles have been identified in Germany as part of a probe into a huge child pornography network linked to the city of Bergisch Gladbach, investigators said on Wednesday.

Investigation group leader Michael Esser speaks at a press conference on Wednesday.
Investigation group leader Michael Esser speaks at a press conference on Wednesday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Federico Gambarini

A total of 439 suspects have been identified and 65 children have been freed from the clutches of paedophiles since the network was uncovered in October 2019, the Berg special investigation group said.

“We have suspects from all walks of life” including “high earners and highly educated people” as well as “ordinary people”, said investigation group leader Michael Esser.

“They went about their work quite normally and there were no indications in the working environment that such acts had been committed,” Esser said.

Most of the children were abused by a member of their own family, the investigators said.

The victims were aged between under a year old and 17, with the youngest rape victim just three months old at the time of the crime.

The Bergisch Gladbach case was opened in 2019 with the arrest of a suspect known as Jörg L.

Police then were shocked to stumble upon a vast network of paedophiles who abused children and shared images of the crimes in online chat groups and discussion forums, leading to one of Germany’s biggest ever child sex abuse investigations.

The state’s justice minister, Peter Biesenbach, announced last year that investigators had come across 30,000 potential suspects connected with the network.

Jörg L. was sentenced to 12 years in jail in October 2020 for sexually abusing his daughter since she was three months old.

He was found guilty of dozens of acts of child abuse and rape as well as distributing child pornography, mostly involving his daughter who was born in 2017.

Germany has been shaken by several serious cases of child abuse in recent years.

Eleven people were arrested in June 2020 on suspicion of sexually abusing children and filming their actions after videos and photos were seized from the cellar of a 27-year-old man from the city of Muenster.

In an earlier scandal in Luegde, 125 kilometres (80 miles) from Muenster, several men abused children at a campsite for years.

The government in 2020 agreed tougher punishments for using and sharing child pornography as part of a crackdown on child abuse.

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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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