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Jail terms for neo-Nazi 'terror group' in Germany

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Frankfurt am Main (AFP)

Eight members of a neo-Nazi cell were jailed Tuesday after a German court found them guilty of forming a "terrorist organisation" that was planning a campaign of violence.

The higher regional court in Dresden sentenced the accused, aged between 22 and 32, to prison terms ranging from two years and three months to five and a half years for the ringleader of the group that called itself "Revolution Chemnitz".

The trial, which lasted six months, was closely watched in Germany where concern has been growing over an increasingly militant far-right scene.

A racist gunman shot dead nine people at a shisha bar and a cafe in the western city of Hanau last month, stunning the country and prompting Chancellor Angela Merkel to urge Germans to resist the "poison" of xenophobia and hatred.

The eight jailed on Tuesday were part of the hooligan, neo-Nazi and skinhead scene in and around the city of Chemnitz in Saxony state, in Germany's former communist East.

They banded together in an online chat group in September 2018, shortly after the murder of a German man by a Syrian sparked anti-migrant street riots in Chemnitz.

The court heard how the ringleader, electrician Christian Keilberg, asked the other seven to sign up to a manifesto in the chat group, that called for perceived enemies to be targeted through armed violence.

The text said the group's aim was to make the National Socialist Underground or NSU "look like a kindergarten group" -- a reference to a neo-Nazi extremist group uncovered in 2011 that murdered 10 people and planted three bombs.

During the trial, defence lawyers argued unsuccessfully that their clients had either not fully understood the manifesto or didn't take it seriously.

- 'Planning a bloodbath' -

Five of the defendants carried out a first attack on September 14, 2018 "armed with glass bottles, weighted knuckle gloves, and an electroshock appliance" that hurt several foreign residents in Chemnitz, prosecutors said.

The violence was believed to have been a "test run" for a larger attack on October 3, the day Germany celebrates reunification.

Judges in Dresden found the five who took part in the assault guilty of serious breaches of the peace.

Prosecutors said the group wanted to upend German society through "violent attacks and armed assaults" against immigrants, political opponents, reporters and members of the economic establishment.

Authorities at the time said they believed the group's members were trying to acquire semi-automatic weapons for a planned bloodbath on Germany's National Unity Day.

Most of the men were arrested on October 1, 2018 while Keilberg was picked up two weeks later.

Speaking in Berlin, Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht said the trial had again highlighted "the danger posed by right-wing extremist terror groups" in Germany, driven by "hatred and contempt for democracy".

The security services and prosecutors would continue to work together to "hold the perpetrators accountable", she added.

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