Germany criticised for not listing more far-right groups as terrorist entities

Mass recruitment to tackle Islamist terrorist threats blamed for lapse in security checks

Demonstrators stand in front of the police officers during a rally against the government's restrictions following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Berlin, Germany, August 29, 2020. REUTERS/Christian Mang
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German efforts to curb far-right infiltration into the police and security services are being hampered by the nation’s failure to list more extremist organisations as terrorist entities.

A report on extremism in the German security forces, published Tuesday, uncovered more than 350 suspected far-right cases between 2017 and April 2020.

There have been a string of scandals involving far-right networks in the police and military in recent years.

Experts have told The National that Germany should have been quicker to designate far-right groups as terrorist organisations.

The move would have given the authorities powers to target bank accounts and electronic communications, and to raid properties in connection with their investigations.

Hans-Jakob Schindler, Director of the Counter Extremism Project think tank, said more extremist groups need to be listed as terrorist groups.

“There is clearly a problem with right-wing issues in the German security services,” he said.

“Germany has this problem and needs to treat it equally to Islamist extremism. Just because these people are German and speak German does not mean they are any less dangerous.

Andreas Kalbitz of Germany's far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party speaks during an election campaign of AfD youth organisation Young Alternative for Germany, in Cottbus, Germany, August 4, 2019. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke
Andreas Kalbitz of Germany's far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) rejects claims he has an extremist outlook. Reuters

“Since 2019 everyone has been looking closely at the issue since the murder of a politician and then the Hanau terror attack earlier this year. It is an issue which needs urgently addressing.

“The authorities should be listing far more of these groups as terror groups than as extremists. Unless they list them as terror entities they cannot just simply block their bank accounts or search their apartments.”

Mr Schindler said a mass recruitment drive in the military and police in Germany in the wake of the September 11 terror attacks and the rise of ISIS in Europe led to a relaxation of standards.

“They first need to look at their recruitment methods after 2001 and after 2015,” he added.

“It was massively enlarged and they lowered their recruitment standards and levels.

“Another issue is the leadership, they need to move leaders around. Leaders have developed loyalty and this has involved cover-ups.

“They also need to give right-wing extremism far more attention, people are twice as likely to fall victim to far-right violence in Germany than Islamist.”

Around 300,000 members of the security forces were asked to fill out anonymous questionnaires for the report, in the hope of breaking what unions and experts have called a culture of silence.

These included security professionals from across the police and other security services, including the BfV domestic intelligence agency.

Mr Schindler told The National that there have been almost weekly incidents of far-right issues in recent months.

“This report is particularly concerning as these people are supposed to be fighting terrorism, they have weapons and access to secret information,” he added.

“It definitely is a major problem. We have had a whole summer of almost weekly scandals.”

In September, 29 officers were suspended from the police force in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia over their participation in private chat groups in which images of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler and a refugee in a gas chamber were shared.

The interior minister of the western state, Herbert Reul, said the 126 images shared across five WhatsApp chat groups between 2013 and 2015 were “the worst”.

In July, an elite unit of Germany’s Special Commando Forces was formally disbanded after some of its members were found to hold extremist views.

Police seized weapons, explosives and ammunition during a raid on the private property of a commando sergeant major in the eastern state of Saxony.

Protestors carry flags during a demonstration of the far-right party The Third Path (Der III. Weg) in Berlin, Germany, October 3, 2020. REUTERS/Christian Mang
Protestors carry flags during a demonstration of the far-right party The Third Path (Der III. Weg) in Berlin, Germany, October 3, 2020. REUTERS

Investigators uncovered two kilograms of plastic explosives and an AK-47, plus an SS songbook and other Nazi memorabilia.

In Hesse, police chief Udo Münch was forced to resign after it emerged police computers were used to find out details of a left-wing politician who later received threatening mail from right-wing extremists.

Earlier this year, 10 people were killed and five others wounded by a far-right extremist in Hanau, near Frankfurt.