Germany to present report on far-right extremism in police

Berlin (AFP) –

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Germany will publish a much-anticipated report on right-wing extremism in its security forces on Tuesday after a string of scandals over far-right networks in the police and military.

Several regional German police forces have been caught up in far-right scandals in recent months, and a unit of the country's elite KSK commando force was dissolved in July over neo-Nazi allegations.

Conservative Interior Minister Horst Seehofer will on Tuesday reveal an estimate of the number of right-wing extremists in the police and other security services, including the BfV domestic intelligence agency.

Around 300,000 members of the security forces were asked to fill out anonymous questionnaires for the report in the hope of breaking what unions and experts have called a culture of silence.

According to initial figures unveiled in September by the daily Die Welt covering the period from January 2017 to March 2020, Germany's police and intelligence services could be harbouring "more than 350 suspected cases" of extremism.

- 'Rigorous' approach -

The German government had previously refused to carry out a full investigation into extremism as it feared tarnishing the reputation of the police and intelligence services, instead favouring a case-by-case approach.

But in a change of stance last week, Seehofer said the government would take a "rigorous" approach and "not cover anything up".

Pressure has been mounting on the government for several months to address the issue of far-right networks in the police and military.

The Social Democrats, the junior partner in Angela Merkel's coalition government, have repeatedly demanded action and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier called in September for a "more resolute" fight against right-wing extremism.

Germany has been hit by a string of far-right attacks over the last 18 months, leading to Seehofer naming far-right extremism the "biggest security threat facing Germany".

But at the same time, evidence has mounted of far-right extremism within the police, security forces and military.

Links between the far right and the police are highlighted in the make-up of the Bundestag lower house of parliament, where five of the far-right AfD party's 89 MPs are police officers -- the highest number of any party.

- Hitler images -

In Germany's most populous state of North Rhine-Westphalia, 30 police officers were suspended in September for spreading "repulsive" far-right propaganda in online chatrooms including swastikas, pictures of Adolf Hitler and a digitally altered image of a refugee in the gas chamber of a concentration camp.

A similar case was uncovered in Berlin in late September.

In July, prosecutors announced the arrest of a former police officer and his wife who they suspect of having sent threatening emails to politicians and other public figures across Germany.

The anonymous messages were all signed "NSU 2.0", a reference to the German neo-Nazi cell National Socialist Underground that committed a string of racist murders in the 2000s.

The so-called "NSU 2.0" affair has already claimed the scalp of police chief Udo Muench of the state of Hesse, who resigned after it emerged that police computers were used to search for details about a far-left politician who subsequently received one of the threatening letters.

Meanwhile, Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer ordered the partial dissolution of the KSK commando force in June after revelations that some of its members harboured neo-Nazi sympathies.

The elite force is charged with sensitive and risky missions such as hostage rescue operations or anti-terror action abroad.

But suspicions that some members harbour far-right extremist sympathies have plagued the force for years.

Germany's Military Counter-Intelligence Service (MAD) has said some 600 Bundeswehr soldiers were suspected of right-wing extremism, including 20 in the elite force.