Violent right-wing extremists have become emboldened to launch vigilante patrols across several neighbourhoods, and the recent attack on terror victim memorials signifies how dangerous they have become for the country's minorities.

Enver Simsek, the first victim of the shadowy neo-Nazi terror group National Socialist Underground (NSU), was killed in Nuremberg on September 9 2000. An oak tree was planted to commemorate Simsek in a public park in the eastern city of Zwickau on September 8 this year, but the plant was chopped down in October, marking yet another destruction of a memorial built for an NSU terror victim.

Germany’s Welt am Sonntag newspaper’s survey found that memorial sites for NSU victims located in eight cities had been targeted by miscreants. Some of the memorials were desecrated multiple times.

Government spokesman Steffen Seibert called the latest incident “simply shocking” while referring to NSU murders as a shameful event in German history.

Ten more trees were planted again in the same park on November 3 to commemorate 10 victims, mostly from the minority Turkish community, who were killed by far-right NSU terrorists between 2000 and 2007. On November 4, German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited the memorial site and laid flowers. Calling for courage and responsibility to combat racism, Merkel said: “As I have promised the family members of the victims several years ago, we as the Federal Government, would do everything to prevent these crimes from ever occurring again”. 

Just a few hundred metres away from her, dozens of right-wing demonstrators protested against her visit shouting “Merkel must go”.

The NSU’s killings went undetected for a long period of time and the public only came to know about their existence in 2011, when two of the group members, Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Boenhardt, died in an unsuccessful bank robbery. The last surviving member, Beate Zschaepe, was given a life sentence last year on 10 counts of murder which claimed lives of eight Turkish immigrants, a Greek worker and a German police officer in an anti-immigrant killing spree between 2000-2007. 

The verdict which came at the end of five-year-long court case also sparked protests in numerous German cities calling for further investigation. Some 1,000 protesters in Berlin chanted "The NSU was not a trio" and demanded more investigations into the broader right-wing extremist network. 

Until 2011 bank robbery attempt, German police and investigators treated immigrant killings as gang violence, referring to them as “doner kebab murders” rather than racism. On several occasions, German police have seen immigrant families as suspects, even harassed families for alleged connections with mafia groups and drug traffickers.  

According to court testimonies and other evidence, Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (BfV) or the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, have been in contact with several members of the NSU. The spy agency is also accused of having prior knowledge about the 10 murders and yet it decided to not act against the group. 

Neo-Nazi organisations and far-right extremism in eastern Germany have been ignored by the country's political elite since the German reunification period in the 90s. Only with the 2018 protests of Chemnitz, was far-right extremism recognised as a formidable opponent challenging the political establishment, as more than 9,000 people for and against immigration took to the streets.

The vandalism of Enver Simsek’s memorial occurs amidst an increase in violence and threats from far-right extremists in Germany. In fact, Dresden, the capital of Saxony and the birthplace of the anti-Islam Pegida movement declared a ‘Nazi emergency’ last Wednesday, which was approved by 39 votes to 29.

Dresden City Council’s resolution acknowledges that "right-wing extremist attitudes and actions... are occurring with increasing frequency" and encourages community to help victims, protect minorities and strengthen democracy. 

The Pegida movement, whose name stands for Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West, originated in Dresden in 2014 with an anti-immigrant agenda to protect Germany’s borders. Since then, Pegida continues to hold rallies demanding curbs on immigration and the enforcement of existing laws.

According to Germany’s domestic intelligence agency (BfV) there are some 24,100 right-wing extremists and 12,700 potentially violent far-right radicals in the country. By the end of June, German authorities registered 8,605 right-wing extremist offences in the first half of 2019. About 66 percent of Germans believe that the state is being too lenient in dealing with Nazis and far-right extremists.

Right-wing extremism and xenophobia erupted in the wake of the 2015 refugee influx. The resurgence of far-right and neo-Nazi violence in recent decades has resulted in increased number of bloody attacks not only towards immigrants but also towards pro-immigration politicians. 

The remaining part of the memorial, an oak tree, is located in a public park in the German city of Zwickau, in the eastern German state of Saxony.
The remaining part of the memorial, an oak tree, is located in a public park in the German city of Zwickau, in the eastern German state of Saxony. (AP)

Here's a timeline of right-wing extremist attacks and how anti-immigrant rhetoric escalated:

2009 – Murder of Egyptian German Marwa el Sherbini during an appeal hearing at Dresden court

 2015 – Merkel’s decision to welcome more than one million asylum-seekers into the country. Soon after Cologne mayor Henriette Reker was stabbed. She survived the attack.

2016 – Munich shopping centre shooting. Inspired by 2011 Norway massacre, gunmen shot and killed nine people all with immigrant background

2017 - Altena Mayor Andreas Hollstein survived a knife attack 

2018 – Eight members of the far-right group the Freital were jailed on terrorism and attempted murder charges for explosives attacks targeting refugees

August 2018 - Seda Basay-Yildiz, the lawyer representing two of the NSU’s victims, received anonymous threats to slaughter her daughter, signed NSU 2.0 

December 2018 – Frankfurt Police arrested five police officers for sending death threats to immigration lawyer signed NSU 2.0. One of the threats read: “Disgusting         Turkish pig, you won’t destroy Germany.” 

31 December 2018 – Bottrop and Essen New Year’s Eve racist attack, in which a man deliberately drove a Mercedes into foreigners, injuring eight people.

26 August 2019 – Week-long protests erupted as a result of fatal stabbing of a German man, allegedly by a Syrian and Iraqi  

2 June 2019 - Walter Luebcke, a pro-refugee regional official was gunned down at his home

Interior Minister announced hundreds of new police and security jobs dealing with far-right terrorism, calling the danger as serious as Islamic extremism. 

30 September 2019 – Trial of neo-Nazi terrorist group “Revolution Chemnitz” started.

Eight members aged between 21 and 32 allegedly sought to acquire weapons and carry out attacks against immigrants. 

9 October 2019 – Halle Synagogue shooting, a far-right, anti-Semitic attack on a synagogue.

[NOTE: The article came from TRT World’s Eyes on Discrimination (EOD) Centre, which monitors and reports on offences, hate crimes and discrimination on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity, national origin and religion, or other related social categories. We promote and encourage respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion.]

Source: TRT World