BERLIN // German authorities have announced a plan to place anti-Islamic websites under surveillance because of growing concern that they are becoming more radical and fomenting right-wing violence.
The domestic intelligence agency, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, said last week it had set up a working group to assess whether German-language sites such as Politically Incorrect and Nürnberg 2.0, whose stated aim is to oppose the "Islamisation of Europe" are in breach of the constitution.
The attack by Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian extremist who killed 77 people in July and posted a "manifesto" on the internet, threw a spotlight on the role played by websites as a forum for spreading hatred of Muslims in Europe.
Right-wing populists and websites condemned Mr Breivik as a crazed loner. But many of the arguments in his 1,500-page declaration matched their own rhetoric, sparking accusations that they have been breeding violence by railing against Muslims.
In Germany, calls for greater scrutiny of the far-right intensified after the revelation in November that a neo-Nazi terrorist cell murdered at least 10 people, eight of them Muslim immigrants of Turkish origin, in a killing spree spanning more than a decade. The case has embarrassed German authorities and exposed them to criticism that they have been blind to the threat posed by racists.
The head of the Hamburg branch of the intelligence agency, Manfred Murck, said there were clear signs that the operators of many anti-Muslim sites "had a disturbed relationship with the democratic rule of law" and often espoused "infringements of human rights protected under our constitution".
A member of parliament for the opposition Left Party, Ulla Jelpke, said closer supervision of such sites was long overdue. "Blogs and websites such as Politically Incorrect or Nürnberg 2.0 clearly promote a racism that extends deep into society," said Ms Jelpke.
"They call into question the dignity and the rights of a whole group of people solely because of their origin or their faith. They thereby clearly run counter to core values of the constitution."
She said it was "scandalous" that authorities had been ignoring such sites, and alleged that institutional racism may be to blame for the lack of determination to crack down on them. "Prejudice against Muslims isn't a problem of the periphery but of the heart of society. That's why it's so dangerous."
Separately, the state prosecutor's office in Munich said last week it had launched an investigation into Michael Stürzenberger, a politician who has written blogs for Politically Incorrect, on suspicion of incitement to racial hatred.
Mr Stürzenberger, a former spokesman for the conservative Christian Social Union party, wrote on January 5: "The totalitarian claim to power inherent in Islam and its legitimisation of violence and killing cannot have a place in a democratic and free society."
Politically Incorrect was founded in 2004 by Stefan Herre, 46, a physical education teacher based in Cologne who insists his site doesn't breach the constitution. He has said it caters for peaceful people and is dedicated to publishing opinions and articles that other media do not want to cover.
With more than 60,000 readers per day, the website is one of Europe's largest anti-Islamic sites. Its operators say they don't tolerate defamatory or insulting commentaries but that they don't have enough staff to delete every problematic comment posted in its forums.
When Sebastian Edathy, a lawmaker for the opposition Social Democratic Party, called for stronger action against anti-Muslim incitement, one commentator posted: "Only a dead Edathy is a good Edathy."
And when Germany was shocked by the news about the existence of a neo-Nazi terror cell last November, Politically Incorrect commented that "Islamic conquests" and "Marxist crimes" had killed more people than the neo-Nazis and the Holocaust.
The website Nürnberg 2.0 has a similar stance. Its home page says it is dedicated to "documenting the systematic and unlawful Islamisation of Germany".
Critics say the opinions espoused by such sites match the views of hardcore right-wing organisations such as the National Democratic Party, which glorifies the Third Reich and faces a possible legal bid to outlaw it.
Aiman Mazyek, the chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, said in a recent interview with Süddeutsche Zeitung, a leading newspaper, that it was time authorities clamped down on such sites.
"We must be clear that the lines between right-wing populists and right-wing radicals are blurred. The one can pave the way for the other. Right-wing populists like to fan fear of Islam, and the resulting hostility to Islam is used by neo-Nazis as an entrance ticket into mainstream society.
"Those who sow hatred and transport blatant racism cloaked as criticism of Islam aren't representing an opinion but committing a crime. No one minds criticism but there is no right to spreading racist ideology, which is precisely what inflammatory internet sites are doing."