German cabinet backs neo-Nazi national register in wake of killings

Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet adopted Wednesday plans to establish a national register of an estimated 9,500 violent neo-Nazis, in the wake of ten killings by a previously unknown extremist group.

The move was prompted by the discovery last November that a trio styling itself the National Socialist Underground had shot dead nine immigrants and a policewoman in a string of attacks dating back to 2000. Police had not previously realized the unsolved crimes had a political motive.

Previous attempts to track neo-Nazis have been handicapped by the fact that there is no national agency to keep far-right groups under surveillance. Each of the 16 states operates separate police and intelligence forces. The 32 agencies are reluctant to swap data.

The register, modelled on a register of violent Islamists that was created with less debate after the September 11, 2001 hijacked-plane attacks on New York and Washington, will require approval through a bill to go before the German parliament.

Merkel's coalition was strained by a debate over the register, with a liberal faction criticizing it as a threat to civil liberties.

In a compromise, the register is to gather data on far rightists who have committed actual violence and their ringleaders, but not on rightists who merely state verbal approval for violence by others.

Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger of the Free Democratic Party, defended the civil liberties provisions, saying in an interview she would not accept a 'general register of opinions.'

But several of the states said this watered down the original proposal and made the register ineffective.

Germany's chief privacy commissioner, Peter Schaar, opposes the register as unnecessary.

State forces use informers to keep track of the anti-immigrant far-right and estimate the movement to number 25,000, with 9,500 of them violent. But many neo-Nazis have effectively evaded surveillance by moving across state lines.

Germany records some 750 far-right crimes of violence per year such as beating up immigrants, arson or attacking left-wing groups. Dozens of people have died in the past two decades in such politically-motivated violence.

Under German law it is a crime to praise the Nazi dictatorship of Adolf Hitler. Authors: Jean-Baptiste Piggin, Bettina Grachtrup


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