Germany's domestic intelligence agency on Thursday said it would step up observation of the far-right Identitarian movement in Germany, after designating it an extremist body.
The agency, known by its German acronym BfV, said the group has "passed beyond the stage of suspicion" and is now considered "a verified extreme right movement."
The assessment gives the security agency enhanced surveillance powers against the group, which was founded in 2012.
'Stoke hostile feelings'
The pan-European movement of young nationalists originated in France and sees its main purpose as defending Europe's "identity" from Islamization. Unlike many other far-right groups, Identitarians reject all association with the Third Reich or National Socialism.
However, the BfV said in a statement that the movement "ultimately aims to exclude people of non-European origin from democratic participation and to discriminate against them in a way that infringes their human dignity."
"These verbal fire-raisers question people's equality and dignity, they speak of foreign infiltration, boost their own identity to denigrate others and stoke hostile feelings towards perceived enemies," said BfV President Thomas Haldenwang.
Far right under pressure
Germany's Identitarian movement is estimated to have some 600 members and has sister organizations in other European countries.
While the Identitarian movement's flags are often seen at far-right rallies in Germany, it so far appears to have avoided any connection with the sort of street violence linked to established neo-Nazi groups in the country.
The elevation of the Identitarian group to a level of suspicion that warrants greater scrutiny comes after the assassination-style shooting of German politician Walter Lübcke.
Lübcke, a member of Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats, had voiced support for the chancellor's liberal refugee policy in 2015, when nearly 900,000 migrants entered Germany. Investigators arrested Stephan E., a former member of the neo-Nazi NPD party with links to the far-right group Combat 18, more than two weeks after the killing.
rc/ng (AP, EPD)