Germany's most populous state North-Rhine Westphalia (NRW) has banned three far-right extremist groups after police searched 150 premises. Thursday's raids follow a trial opening in Koblenz against 26 neo-Nazis.
Interior Minister of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), Ralf Jäger, said searches by 900 police officers in 32 locations early on Thursday had netted hand weapons, computer data and a bust of Adolf Hitler.
In Dortmund, 1,000 placards of the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) were seized.
The placards were apparently intended for a city council by-election due on Sunday in the Ruhr District city, said Jäger.
The placard find, the minister said, proved a "close interconnection" between the far-right scene and the NPD.
Some federal and regional officials want to submit a fresh application to Germany's Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe for the party to be banned.
In 2003, the court rejected an application on the grounds that the authorities' use of informers within NPD circles had tainted evidence. The NPD has seats in two of Germany's regional state assemblies. Germany's top court sets high hurdles before any banning of political parties.
Neo-Nazi network "gauged"
At a press briefing in Dusseldorf, Jäger confirmed that he had banned three neo-Nazi cells called "comradeships" because the groups were "xenophobic, racist and anti-Semitic" and posed a danger to peaceful co-existence in Germany's communities.
He said members of the groups - located in the Aachen area on the border with Belgium, in Dortmund, and the Hamm area of northeastern NRW - had repeatedly attacked their political opponents with "fist punches and knife stabbings."
Thursday's crackdown had "gouged" large holes in the neo-Nazi network," Jäger added. "All their actions were aimed at undermining our democratic social order."
Last year, Jäger estimated that among NRW's population of 17.8 million residents there were 4,000 neo-Nazis. On Thursday, he said 400 to 600 of them were prone to being violent.
Last December, NRW authorities established a new coordination center in Düsseldorf to police the far-right scene. That move followed shock disclosures that, between 2000 and 2007, a secretive neo-Nazi cell based in the eastern state of Thuringia had murdered eight people of Turkish origin, one person of Greek origin, and a policewoman.
NRW also set up special investigative units in Aachen and Dortmund as well as the Rhine River city of Cologne, where Jäger banned another comradeship last May.
Authorities in NRW have also moved against Salafist groups in recent months, after violent clashes between police and radical Islamists in the cities of Solingen and Bonn.
Neo-Nazis on trial in Koblenz
The intervention by NRW's state government, follows the start of major trial against 26 alleged neo-Nazis upriver in Koblenz in the adjoining state of Rhineland-Palatinate (RLP) on Monday.
Prosecutors accuse them of establishing a criminal group that intended to eliminate Germany's free and democratic constitutional order and of perpetrating a "climate of fear" during attacks on leftists as far afield as Dresden in eastern Germany between 2009 and 2011.
On Monday, the presiding judge in Koblenz rejected a defense application that the public be excluded during the reading of charges. The mammoth trial is expected to run into September.
The legal actions precede commemorations this weekend of the 20th anniversary of anti-foreigner rioting in Lichtenhagen - a suburb of Germany's northern Baltic port city Rostock - that shocked Germany in 1992, shortly after its east-west reunification.
ipj / rc (dpa, epd, AFP)