German police unit disbanded over suspected far-right chats

Elite officers in Frankfurt suspected of sharing neo-Nazi imagery

BERLIN, GERMANY - DECEMBER 21: Police patrol a Christmas market the day it reopened following an apparent terror attack on another Christmas market in the city center on December 21, 2016 in Berlin, Germany. All of Berlin's approximately 60 Christmas markets had remained closed yesterday in a signal of respect and mourning for the victims of the Monday attack in which a man drove a heavy truck into the crowded Christmas market at Breitscheidplatz square, killing 12 people and injuring 48.  (Photo by Michele Tantussi/Getty Images)

An elite German police unit will be disbanded over suspicions that officers exchanged far-right content in online chat groups.

Members of Frankfurt’s SEK commando unit are suspected of exchanging Nazi imagery.

The case is the latest in a series of extremism allegations in the ranks of the German police and military.

The chats surfaced during a separate investigation into an SEK officer who was suspected of sharing child abuse imagery.

“During an evaluation of the suspect’s mobile phones, several chat groups where criminal content was shared by members were identified,” senior prosecutor Nadja Niesen said.

Some of the suspects had their homes and workplaces searched in dawn raids by Frankfurt prosecutors and criminal investigators in the state of Hesse.

Seventeen officers are suspected of sharing neo-Nazi images or content that incited racial hatred.

Three senior officers are accused of obstruction of justice because they allegedly failed to intervene or sanction those involved.

Of the 20 suspects, nineteen are active police officers and one is retired. The serving officers have been temporarily relieved of their duties.

The “unacceptable conduct” of some SEK officers made the unit’s dissolution inevitable, said Hesse state interior minister Peter Beuth.

He said an “entirely new leadership culture” was needed in the special forces.

Concern over far right

Sharing Nazi imagery is illegal in Germany, where far-right extremism is a sensitive subject because of the legacy of the Nazi dictatorship and the Holocaust.

German officials have faced accusations of not doing enough to root out potentially violent nationalists in their ranks.

The Defence Ministry last year disbanded a special forces unit over separate allegations of far-right extremism.

It came after police found weapons, explosives and ammunition in the private property of one of the elite soldiers.

In July last year, a former police officer was arrested on suspicion of sending threatening emails to politicians and other public figures.

The anonymous messages were allegedly signed “NSU 2.0”, a reference to a neo-Nazi cell that committed a string of racist murders in the 2000s.

In May, a former German soldier went on trial accused of plotting to attack high-ranking politicians while posing as a Syrian refugee.

Franco Albrecht, 32, allegedly planned to stir up anti-migrant sentiment in Germany. He denies plotting an attack.