German cabinet ministers agreed on Wednesday to compile existing data into a national registry of thousands of neo-Nazis deemed to be likely to commit acts of violence, two months after the discovery of a right-wing extremist cell suspected of at least 10 murders since 2000.
Heinz Fromm, head of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Germany's domestic security agency, said there are an estimated 9,500 neo-Nazis in Germany who would meet the criteria for inclusion in the database, including a growing number of so-called autonomous nationalists not affiliated with any broader organized movement.
The database is not to include people who only verbally advocate Nazism, but it would include foreign nationals known to German authorities to be potentially violent. It has been modeled on a register of violent Islamist extremists created in the United States in the wake of the attacks on September 11, 2001.
There had been tension within Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet over the database, with the junior coalition Free Democratic Party (FDP) reluctant to support the idea because of concern for civil liberties.
Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, an FDP member, said she would not accept a "general database of opinions," but that she could support the registry as long as it only includes extremists who are violent.
The German parliament must approve the bill before it goes into effect.
The idea for the database came after authorities discovered a trio of right-wing extremists who called themselves the National Socialist Underground. They are suspected of the murders of nine people in Germany with immigrant background and one German policewoman. Two of the three suspects are now dead, while the third is in police custody.
Germany's law enforcement system has come under heavy criticism as it has become clear that various authorities had kept members of the trio under surveillance at different times but failed to coordinate their investigations or connect the suspects to the murders.
Each of Germany's 16 states operates its own separate police force and intelligence agency, creating 32 agencies that are often reluctant to share information with one another.
Author: Andrew Bowen (Reuters, dpa)
Editor: Michael Lawton