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Far-right extremism probe into elite German army unit opens

August 17, 2017

State prosecutors in the city of Tübingen have begun investigating whether right-wing activities took place at a farewell party for special forces in the Bundeswehr. It is the latest scandal to rock the German army.

German special forces
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/K. Nietfeld

A prosecutor spokesperson from the state attorney's office in the German city of Tübingen confirmed to DW on Thursday that it had begun looking into whether right-wing extremist behavior took place among Germany's Special Force Commando (KSK), the nation's elite military troops.

"We are examining the incident," Nicolaus Wegele said via phone. He added that the investigation may eventually be taken over by the Stuttgart attorney since the alleged incidents took place near to that city in the town of Calw. 

Stuttgart lies some 45 kilometers north of Tübingen in the federal state of Baden-Württemberg.

Read more: The Bundeswehr's image problem - is it overrun with right-wing extremists?

The badge of the KSK Special Forces Commando of the German army
The badge of the KSK (above), the German army's elite special forcesImage: picture-alliance/dpa/P. Seeger

Hitler salutes and pig heads

According to research undertaken by public German radio stations Radio Bremen, NDR, ZDF and ARD, KSK troops allegedly displayed extreme right-wing behavior at a goodbye party that took place on April 27, 2017 at a shooting range near Stuttgart. The troops reportedly gave the Hitler salute, listened to right-wing extremist rock music, and also organized a pig's head toss.

Slaughtered pig heads are commonly used in right-wing extremist activities due to the animal's association with the Kosher and Halal dietary restrictions for Jews and Muslims respectively.
Read more: German army sees spike in internal abuse complaints

Testimony from an eyewitness present at the events lead the Tübingen office to open its probe. The eyewitness said that a soldier friend of hers had invited her to the goodbye party so she could be the "main prize" for the head of the military company. She also reported having WhatsApp messages on her phone as proof.

The elite KSK troops were founded in 1996 in order to free and evacuate German hostages in war zones. Their operations are secret and have included missions in Afghanistan and the Balkans. Very little information about the KSK is made public due to the need to protect the soliders and their families. 

Germany's Special Forces Commando KSK practice in Calw
The KSK practice hostage rescue at their base in Calw in 2014Image: picture-alliance/dpa/P. Seeger

Read more: The German military and its troubled traditions

Bundeswehr criticizes Bundeswehr

The Bundeswehr has also opened an internal investigation into the matter, a military spokesperson confirmed to German news agency dpa, while emphasizing that none of the acts had yet been confirmed. The army reportedly knew of the incident in Calw as early as July 13.

On Thursday, military commissioner Hans-Peter Bartels on Thursday questioned why the Bundeswehr did not notify the state prosecution themselves once the incident became known, rather than wait for the eyewitness to come forward independently. 

"Giving the Hitler salute is not a question of taste. Playing music that disparages a democratic Germany is not a question of taste," Bartels said. He called upon any soldiers with information to come forward. "Soldiers should defend democracy, not disparage it," he added.

Read more: What draws right-wing extremists to the military?


The Bundeswehr's latest far-right extremism scandal

The alleged far-right extremist incidents in Calw lengthens the list of scandals that the Bundeswehr has faced in recent months. 

In April 2017, authorities arrested Franco A., an army lieutenant who was reportedly planning a terrorist attack and had been posing as a Syrian refugee. The odd case put the Bundeswehr on the defensive since it allegedly knew of Franco A.'s right-wing leanings as early as 2014 but did not intervene. 

Just a few week's after the arrest, investigators also uncovered Nazi memorabilia in troop barracks in Donaueschingen, including helmets from the Wehrmacht - the German military under Hitler. The Bundeswehr was founded in 1955, and many once-soldiers in the Wehrmacht began serving in the Bundeswehr.

Other scandals to rattle the Bundeswehr this year include allegations of hazing and sexual abuse. The scandals have led to tensions between Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen and top army brass. 

cmb/rt (dpa)

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