Authorities in Germany have conducted nationwide raids on alleged neo-Nazi groups and arrested four suspects, the country’s federal prosecutor’s office announced.
The raids, which began early in the morning on March 6, saw more than 800 police officers from 11 of Germany’s 16 federal states take part in detaining the suspects and conducting searches.
Officials said they searched the residences of 50 individuals who are suspected of being right-wing extremists, while another 11 locations were also checked.
The main focus of the raids was the neo-Nazi groups “Atomwaffen Division” (AWD), also known as the National Socialist Order, a right-wing extremist terrorist organization originating in the United States, “Combat 18” (C18), which originated in the UK and aims to create white-only countries through violence, and “Knockout 51” (K51), a far-right combat sports group.
Combat 18 was eventually declared illegal in 2020.
Germany’s federal prosecutor’s office, Generalbundesanwaltschaft (GBA), said it had arrested four men suspected of being members of right-wing extremist criminal organizations as part of the raids.
The individuals were identified as Leon R, Maximilian A, and Eric K, who were detained in Eisenach, a town in central Germany, and Bastian A, who was detained in Rotenburg an der Fulda, a town in the Hersfeld-Rotenburg district in northeastern Hesse which lies on the river Fulda.
All are German nationals, Generalbundesanwaltschaft said in a statement on April 6.
Leon R, officials said, is the alleged founder and ringleader of the “Knockout 51” criminal organization operating from Eisenach, which officials said “lures young, nationalist-minded men, deliberately indoctrinates them with right-wing extremist propaganda, and trains them for secret street fights.”
Knockout 51 is believed to have ties with other far-right groups across Germany, and “since March 2020 at the latest, the association has been geared towards committing serious criminal offenses,” including bodily harm primarily intended to be committed against members of the political “left spectrum” as well as law enforcement, officials said.
It said training sessions allegedly led by Leon R took place in premises used by the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) in Eisenach.
Some of the suspects face charges of being members of terrorist groups, others of being part of a criminal organization, as well as breaches of peace and dangerous bodily harm.
Officials said that between the end of August 2020 and the end of March 2021, members of “Knockout 51” were involved in protests against measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 in cities such as Leipzig and Kassel, “in order to achieve the criminal purposes” of the group.
Those protests resulted in violent clashes with police and counter-protesters.
The federal prosecutor’s office noted that similar searches were underway in various other parts of Germany including Thuringia, Rhineland-Palatinate, Lower Saxony, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Schleswig-Holstein, Brandenburg, Berlin, Hesse, North Rhine-Westphalia, Saarland, and Baden-Württemberg aimed at detaining 46 more suspects.
The latest crackdown on extremist groups comes after the German government last month unveiled a new 10-point “action plan” to combat racism and right-wing extremism within the country.
“The biggest threat to our democracy is right-wing extremism,” Interior Minister Nancy Faeser told a news conference in Berlin. “We will dismantle the far-right networks. We will investigate and stop their financial activities,” Faeser said, adding, “We will resolutely combat hate speech on the Internet in order to dry up the breeding ground for hatred and violence.”