BERLIN: German police on Monday arrested six men on suspicion of belonging to a far-right “terrorist” group that attacked foreigners in the city of Chemnitz.
The German nationals, aged 20 to 31, were taken into custody for allegedly forming a group called “Revolution Chemnitz” with the aim of subverting the democratic state.
“To this end, they intended to launch violent and armed attacks against foreigners and people who have different political views,” said federal prosecutors in a statement.
Their targets included representatives of different political parties as well as members of the economic establishment, the prosecutors said.
They added that the group appeared to have been planning an assault on Germany’s Unity Day, which falls on Wednesday.
The arrests once again cast an uncomfortable spotlight on extremism in Saxony state, where Chemnitz is located and which is a stronghold of the far-right party AfD.
Investigators are still trying to determine if the suspects were involved in the wave of xenophobic marches that swept Chemnitz at the end of August following a fatal stabbing, allegedly by an asylum seeker.
But prosecutors said that on September 14 five of the suspects “armed with glass bottles, weighted knuckle gloves, and an electroshock appliance, attacked and hurt several foreign residents” in Chemnitz.
“Investigations show that the assault was a test-run for an event that one of the accused planned for October 3, 2018,” said prosecutors.
Police are still investigating what exactly was being plotted.
More than 100 police officers were deployed to search apartments and other premises.
“With the arrests and raids, we are sending a clear signal that we are identifying and breaking up such right-wing terrorist structures early,” said Saxony interior minister Roland Woeller.
Germany’s Justice Minister Katarina Barley highlighted the suspects’ links to the football hooligan, skinhead and neo-Nazi scenes and warned that “the network under investigation does not stand in isolation.”
Saxony, a former communist state, has gained notoriety as the homebase of several extremist groups.
Eight members of a far-right outfit called the Freital group were jailed in March on terrorism and attempted murder charges for a series of explosions targeting refugees and anti-fascist activists.
Members of the neo-Nazi cell NSU, responsible for several racist killings, also evaded police for years in Chemnitz and another Saxony town, Zwickau.
Most recently, Chemnitz has been polarized over the question of migrants since 35-year-old carpenter Daniel Hille was stabbed to death on August 26.
Police probing that killing have detained a Syrian man, Alaa S., 23, while an international warrant has been issued for an Iraqi.
In the hours after the stabbing, thousands of people took to the streets in protest, answering calls by far-right party AfD and nationalist group PEDIGA, which campaigns against what it calls the Islamization of the West.
Police found themselves overwhelmed by the swift mobilization of the region’s football hooligans and right-wing extremists, with the demonstrations degenerating into mob violence against foreigners.
August’s week of xenophobic protests in Chemnitz deeply shocked Germany, prompting Chancellor Angela Merkel to urge Germans to stand up against the far right.
Merkel is due to visit Chemnitz in November, but she faces a cold reception. Resentment runs deep in the city over her liberal refugee policy that led to the arrival of more than a million asylum seekers in Germany since 2015.
The Chemnitz riots also threatened Merkel’s fragile government coalition.
Germany’s domestic spy chief Hans-Georg Maassen had appeared to play down the severity of far-right mob violence.
Hard-line Interior Minister Horst Seehofer of the CSU backed Maassen, while Merkel’s other coalition partner the SPD wanted him removed from the job.
A compromise was finally reached to move Maassen to a post responsible for domestic security.
But the dispute left all three parties of Merkel’s coalition weakened.
A survey published late September showed that the trio would no longer have a majority if Germany were to go to the polls.