Germany's most populous state North-Rhine Westphalia (NRW) has banned three far-right extremist groups while police searched 150 premises. The crackdown follows a trial opening in Koblenz against 26 neo-Nazis.
At least 800 police searched suspected far-right premises and apartments at six locations across the western German state on Thursday, according to a spokesman for NRW's interior minister Ralf Jäger of the governing center-left Social Democrats.
The minister had banned three so-called "comradeships" located around the western German city of Aachen, the Ruhr District city of Dortmund and NRW's northeastern city of Hamm. The ministry did not indicate arrests, but said police had seized large quantities of far-right emblems and property.
Neo-Nazi network disrupted
The spokesman quoted Jäger as saying that "we have gouged large holes in the neo-Nazi network."
Police in Aachen, NRW's most western city where medieval kings were once crowned and which now borders Belgium and The Netherlands, said their raids were the "most comprehensive ever" against far-right extremists in that area.
Police also conducted searches in Dortmund, Hamm and in NRW's northeastern county of Unna.
Last year, Jäger estimated that among NRW's population of 17.8 million there were 4,070 neo-Nazis. Last December, NRW authorities established a new coordination center in the regional capital of Düsseldorf to police the far-right scene.
The crackdown comes after 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, Dortmund and 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, which comprises the Social Democrats and ecologist Greens, follows the start of major trial against 26 alleged neo-Nazis upriver in Koblenz in the adjourning 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/slk (dpa, epd, AFP)