On Friday 14th February, police in Germany arrested twelve German citizens allegedly belonging to a far-right extremist terrorist cell. The media are referring to the group as ‘Der Harte Kern’ (The Hard Core) after the name of one of its group chats, as revealed by Welt am Sonntag newspaper. The men communicated using WhatsApp and had been under telecommunication surveillance for half a year following the group’s formation in September 2019.
Of the twelve members, four are prime suspects in the attempt to create “a civil-war-like situation … via as yet undefined attacks on politicians, asylum seekers and people of Muslim faith” according to a statement by federal prosecutors. Allegations against the remaining eight include agreeing to provide funding, weapons and participation in future attacks. The ringleader, a 53-year-old man from near Augsburg, referred to only as Werner S, recruited members from fringe internet communities who shared his beliefs.
Among the arrestees is a police officer previously suspended from service following suspicions of links to the far-right, a source from the interior ministry in North-Rhine Westphalia told AFP News. The officer operated in an official capacity for decades, although information from Die Welt claims he lacked access to security-related data. It remains unclear whether the officer is a prime suspect.
The Federal Court of Justice has detained all twelve men while the investigation continues, although one more suspect believed to be part of the group remains at large.
Following the arrests, raids by heavily armed special units took place in thirteen locations across six German states. Spiegel magazine and Welt am Sonntag reported that police discovered knives, extreme right-wing propaganda and materials used to create homemade explosives. Police also found a self-made pistol, known as a “slam-gun”, resembling the weapon used in October’s right-wing terrorist attack on Halle’s synagogue.
Angela Merkel, speaking as Chancellor of Germany, denounced the targeting of the Islamic community as “abominable behaviour”.
Steffen Seibert, head of the German Federal Press and Information Office, promised: “the federal government feels an obligation to ensure that anyone in Germany can practice their religion within the bounds of our legal order”.
However, many in the Muslim community still feel unsafe. In an interview with DW, Abdassamad El Yazidi – secretary-general of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany – noted that Muslims in Germany feel “highly insecure” and “abandoned.” He also commented on statements such as Seibert’s which “still feel compelled to refer to the German ‘basic order,’ as if the majority of Muslims in Germany were against the ‘basic order’ and against democracy,” which he felt represented a far cry from any “clear, strong expression of solidarity”.
Germany has attempted to address the growing problem of right-wing extremism, following the Halle attack and murder of pro-refugee politician Walter Lüebcke last June. New measures including tougher gun ownership laws and stricter monitoring of hate speech online. Despite this, there are calls for increased surveillance.
Thorsten Frei, Deputy Chairman of the CDU, believes in the need for “the most modern communication networks” to be monitored “for the protection of the constitution”. While Ute Vogt, spokeswoman for the SPD Parliamentary Group on Domestic Policy, claims current monitoring “no longer meets the requirements”.
Here, however, caution must be applied. We need look no further than 2001’s US Patriot Act to demonstrate how the threat of terrorism may be used to justify reactionist laws which give governments wide-ranging powers to violate human rights without probable cause. Konstantin Kuhle, an internal spokesman for the FDP Parliamentary Group, correctly identifies that “even in the fight against right-wing extremism, civil-rights, particularly in the digital world, must not be sacrificed in their entirety”.
It is important to remember the aim of ‘Der Harte Kern’ was not the death of its targets but the encouragement of counterattacks to upset the social order. The 2019 Global Terrorism Index shows that, in 2018, Islamist groups carried out 6.8% of terrorist attacks in the West while far-right groups made up 17.2% of that total. Additionally, the GTI displays an increase in extreme-right incidents by 320% in the past five years. Despite these figures, headlines and politics continue to be dominated by Islamophobia, terrorist fear-mongering and anti-immigrant rhetoric. By buying into this atmosphere of fear, retaliation and division we fulfil the agendas of these far-right groups regardless of the success of their attacks.