Germany stages country-wide raids against ‘neo-Nazi networks’

Investigators swooped on suspected neo-Nazi militant cells across Germany on Wednesday and arrested four suspects as the country pursues a forceful crackdown on far-right extremists.

Right-ring extremists raid Eisenach
A police van parks in front of the "Flieder Volkshaus" in Eisenach, Thuringia, during a raid on alleged right-wing extremist groups. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Martin Schutt

In what Der Spiegel magazine called “the biggest blow against the militant neo-Nazi scene in the recent past”, the federal prosecutor’s office said officers staged dawn raids at the homes of 50 suspects in 11 states.

“The four men arrested are accused of membership of a right-wing extremist criminal organisation,” it said in a statement, as well as charges including grievous bodily harm.

Spiegel reported that one of the suspects was a non-commissioned officer in the German military.

More than 800 police officers were involved in detaining the suspects and conducting the searches.

READ ALSO: Germany searches 100 suspects over political hate speech

‘Biggest threat’

The targets are believed to belong to the far-right martial arts group Knockout 51, the banned Combat 18 named after the order in the alphabet of Adolf Hitler’s initials, US-based Atomwaffen (Atomic Weapons) Division or the Sonderkommando 14/18.

Three of the men now in custody, identified only as Leon R., Maximilian A. and Eric K., were detained in the eastern town of Eisenach. The fourth, Bastian A., was picked up in Rotenburg an der Fulda in central Germany.

The investigation, which used information from the domestic security watchdog, the MAD military intelligence unity and the federal police force, “showed evidence of the suspects having personal ties to the far-right martial arts and music scenes”.

The three men arrested in Eisenach are believed to be leading figures in Knockout 51, which prosecutors said “lures young, nationalist-minded men, indoctrinates them with right-wing extremist propaganda and trains them for street fighting”.   

It said training sessions allegedly led by Leon R. took place in rooms used by the neo-Nazi NPD party in Eisenach.

READ ALSO: German court authorises surveillance of far-right AfD

Knockout 51 is believed to have ties with other far-right groups across Germany, and “at the latest since March 2020, has been focused on committing serious crimes”.

These include attacks on leftist activists, the police and “other people that according to the right-wing extremist and racist world view of the group can be fought”.

Germany’s centre-left-led government under Chancellor Olaf Scholz took office in December pledging a decisive fight against far-right militants after criticism that the previous administration had been ineffective in stopping neo-Nazi attacks.

Nancy Faeser, Germany’s first woman interior minister, said when she was appointed that her top priority would be tackling the country’s “biggest threat: right-wing extremism” after a series of deadly far-right attacks.

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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.