After uncovering a planned neo-Nazi attack, security experts in Germany have begun talking of a new dimension in right-wing terror. Many fear the homegrown violence has been overlooked in the focus on foreign terrorism.
Critics say resources have been diverted away from policing neo-Nazis.
Days after German investigators foiled a right-wing plot to bomb a cornerstone-laying ceremony for a new Jewish synagogue, German politicians began debating the severity of the "brown" threat.
“Across the extreme right-wing spectrum there are the seeds of a few networks prepared for violence,” Dieter Wiefelspütz, the interior expert for the ruling Social Democrats, said over the weekend, adding the threat had taken on a “new dimension.”
The debate has been fueled by new information that the neo-Nazi group in Munich planned more attacks targeting Greek, Islamic institutions and a leading Bavarian politician. Franz Maget, the lead candidate for the Social Democrats in Bavarian state elections this weekend, said on Monday he had been spied on by the extremists.
"I'm not afraid, but the police have told me to take it seriously," Maget said.
Terror focus shifts
Critics contend the plots show Germany has neglected its own homegrown terrorist threat from the right wing, as authorities have focused their energies on rooting out Islamic extremists in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.
Germany has been a focal point of efforts to stamp out Islamic terrorism ever since it became known that many of the September 11 suicide hijackers lived for years in Hamburg. The country launched a large-scale investigation into militants among its three-million-strong Muslim population.
“Resources were pulled from the right-wing extremist area for the anti-terrorism war,” Konrad Freiberg, head of Germany’s police union, told the Berliner Zeitung newspaper on Monday. “The priorities were changed. That was a mistake.”
Jewish leaders concerned
Leaders of Germany’s Jewish community also have criticized what they say has been too lax an attitude toward neo-Nazis and skinheads. Michael Fürst, head of the state of Lower Saxony’s Jewish community, told NDR television the threat from right-wing extremists had not been taken seriously enough in recent years. “We no longer had the feeling that the right-wingers are real criminals,” he said.
As if to underline that sentiment, a band of drunken skinheads in Munich attacked a dark-skinned American early Sunday morning. The 48-year-old was able to fend them off with street sign until a police patrol car showed up, but the police said the skinheads had some connection to the neo-Nazis that had planned the bombing of the Jewish center.
Police were only led to the Munich neo-Nazis by a former member, who brought charges after being beaten up by the extremists. Working on the informant's tip, police raided a Munich apartment and found more than 14 kg (30 lbs) of bomb-making material, including 1.7kg of the explosive TNT. A number of neo-Nazis have been charged with a planning a bomb attack and membership in a terrorist organization.
Prosecutors are now checking whether the Munich group was involved in sending threatening letters containing yellow powder in February. The letters, from a so-called "German Anti-Jewish Battle Alliance," threatened attacks against Jewish targets in Berlin, Frankfurt and Munich.
A Brown Army Faction?
Bavaria’s Interior Minister Günther Beckstein compared the right-wing extremists involved in plotting the attacks in Munich to the left-wing radical Red Army Faction (RAF) that terrorized West Germany in the 1970s with bombs, kidnappings and politically motivated assassinations. Beckstein said he saw the makings of a “Brown Army Faction,” referring to the brown Nazi uniforms worn during the Third Reich.
German Interior Minister Otto Schily on Monday said the recent events were “to be taken seriously,” but said there was no need for a “general alarm” and dismissed the comparison to the RAF, members of which he defended as an attorney in the late 1970s. “The structures are such that we can’t and shouldn’t really make a comparison to the 70s and the Red Army Faction,” Schily told German ARD television.
He did, however, admit that efforts perhaps needed to be redoubled in tackling the growing menace from the extreme right wing. “We need a permanent uprising of the upstanding,” he said.