German police arrested seven suspected members of a far-right terror cell Monday, after the group allegedly tried to acquire semiautomatic weapons to carry out attacks against foreigners and political opponents.German federal prosecutor Peter Frank said the group called itself Revolution Chemnitz — after the city in Saxony that has been rocked by major anti-immigration protests. The group was allegedly plotting an attack to take place on Wednesday, a national holiday in Germany that commemorates the country’s reunification.
The arrests are the latest example of anti-migrant protests spawning far-right terror in the east German state, which has a reputation as a hotbed of right-wing extremism. Earlier this year, eight members of a terror group were jailed for a bombing campaign in the Saxon town of Freital amid anti-refugee unrest in 2015.According to Frank, those arrested Monday were members of the “hooligan, skinhead, and neo-Nazi scene” in the Chemnitz region, who consider themselves leading figures in Saxony’s far-right fringe.The arrests were carried out as about 100 police officers raided properties in Saxony and the southern state of Bavaria. Officers reportedly seized items including batons, an air rifle, computer hard drives, and Third Reich propaganda including portraits of Adolf Hitler and Nazi flags, which are illegal in Germany.Frauke Köhler, spokeswoman for the federal prosecutors, said the group had initially been investigated as a criminal enterprise. However, internal communications showed the group had been actively planning attacks and making “intensive efforts to obtain firearms,” and the probe was upgraded to a terrorism investigation. Prosecutors allege the group was plotting to carry out “violent and armed attacks against foreigners and political enemies” as part of a “revolutionary” plan to overthrow Germany's democratic order.READ MORE: A lit fuse – how a far-right terror group’s bombing campaign unleashed something sinister in a small German town
Investigators believe the group operated under the command of 31-year-old, identified only as Christian K. for privacy reasons, who was arrested earlier following a coordinated vigilante assault on foreigners in Chemnitz on Sept. 14.Prosecutors allege that Christian K. and four of those arrested Monday had taken part in the Sept. 14 assaults in central Chemnitz, in which people of foreign descent were attacked with broken bottles, bats, weighted boxing gloves and a stun gun.Prosecutors believe that assault was a practice run for a larger attack being planned for Wednesday's national holiday.Chemnitz, an industrial city of some 240,000 people, has been a recent flashpoint for far-right activity since a local man died from stab wounds inflicted in a fight with asylum seekers on Aug. 25.The death sparked large anti-immigration demonstrations with violent, extremist fringes — participants were caught on camera giving Nazi salutes and chasing down foreigners — as well as significant anti-racist counter-demonstrations. The unrest also led to major political fallout, with Germany's domestic intelligence chief losing his job after expressing doubts over the authenticity of videos showing migrants being attacked.READ MORE: Germany’s spy chief ousted from job over alleged far-right sympathiesThe city’s associations with the extreme-right extend even further back. Chemnitz was a base for the country’s deadliest post-war Nazi terror group, the National Socialist Underground (NSU), which murdered at least 10 people over an eight-year period in the 2000s. Its sole surviving member, Beate Zschäpe, was arrested in 2011 and handed a life sentence in July. Members of Revolution Chemnitz referred to the NSU in phone calls, according to investigators.
Earlier this year, hundreds of marchers participated in a May Day rally in Chemnitz organized by neo-Nazi group The Third Way.German Justice Minister Katarina Barley said Monday the latest arrests showed the enduring threat of right-wing extremism, and the need to remain vigilant.“If the allegations are further substantiated, then investigators will have succeeded in conducting an important blow against far-right terrorism,” she said. “We have to be much more alert than before. That goes for the security forces and the judiciary, but also for the whole of society.”
Cover image: Policemen escort a suspected right-wing terrorist after arriving at the Federal Supreme Court in Karlsruhe, southwestern Germany, on October 1, 2018. (CHRISTOPH SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images)