German police arrested four people earlier this week accused of belonging to a far-right group plotting terrorist attacks against Muslims in Germany.
Around 250 German law enforcement officers, including specialized counter-terrorism units, conducted raids across four states on Wednesday. Officers found “fireworks with large explosive power” and other evidence of terrorist plotting during the raids but investigators are still trying to determine “whether the suspects already had concrete attack targets or attack dates.”
The four arrested were members of an organization called The Oldschool Society and “strongly suspected of forming a terrorist group,” according to a statement from the German general prosecutor's office.
German authorities only used initials for the last names of those arrested, identifying them as: Andreas H., 56, Markus W., 39, Olaf O., 47, and Denise Vanessa G., 22. Out of the four, Andreas H. and Markus W. were believed to be leaders in the group, acting as “president” and “vice president” respectively.
“According to current investigations, it was the group’s goal to conduct attacks in smaller groups inside Germany on well-known Salafists, mosques and asylum seeker centers,” said a statement from the prosecutors’ office.
German journalist Lutz Bucklitsch, an expert on right-wing extremist movements in his country, described the OSS as a newly formed offshoot of Germany’s far-right National Democratic Party. Bucklitsch called the Oldschool Society “a little group of not more than 20 people started at the end of last year.” He said, “They started with the website on Facebook.” OSS’s Facebook and YouTube pages were shut down after the arrests but are still visible in archived versions. Internet postings by the group feature racial epithets, neo-Nazi symbols, and references to past attacks on German refugee centers.
“This group is part of the NPD,” Bucklitsch said, explaining OSS’s relation to the larger National Democratic Party. “The president and the vice president are members of the NPD,” he said.
While less is known about what, if anything, distinguished the politics of the relatively new OSS, the NPD’s ideology is commonly described as neo-Nazi, despite the group’s avoidance of overt signs of Nazism, which are banned under Germany’s constitution.
The timing of the raid on the OSS was likely due to a tipoff from a police informant about an imminent attack, Bucklitsch said.
“In the last four to eight weeks they began to plan something. They were going to meet with all the members of the group next weekend and the police believed it was to plan the specific attack, so it was better to stop them yesterday before the meeting.”
Bucklitsch believes that German police knew about the upcoming meeting because they had penetrated the OSS. “The police had a member in this group who told them what they planned,” he said. “They have information they could only have with a person inside who could tell them about all the meetings held by the group.”
Right-wing extremists have been under heavy surveillance by Germany’s intelligence services since 2011. That was the year that authorities discovered that a neo-Nazi group, the National Socialist Underground, was responsible for a series of previously unsolved crimes going back more than a decade, including the killing of nine immigrants and a series of bank robberies and bombings.
Despite that attention groups on the far right have grown in recent years, mainly by appealing to anti-immigrant sentiment that has become more pervasive as Germany takes in more refugees.
In 2014, Germany received 200,000 asylum requests, a number that could double this year, a German minister announced Tuesday.
The influx of new immigrants, many from Muslim countries, has raised fears about an increase in the number of Islamist extremists.
Wednesday’s arrests of neo-Nazi terrorists come after German authorities reportedly thwarted a plot last week in which a German-Turkish couple with jihadi aspirations planned to detonate bombs at a bicycle race.
Support for anti-immigrant, anti-Islam political parties like the PEGIDA movement, which drew an estimated 25,000 supporters to a rally in January, has grown in Germany. PEGIDA’s founder resigned after pictures surfaced showing that he posed as Hitler, but the party has continued without him under new leadership.
In an interview from December 2014, Germany’s domestic intelligence chief Hans-Georg Maassen put the current number of Salafists in Germany at more than 6,300, up from an estimated 3,800 three years prior.
The broader anti-immigrant sentiment in Germany, combined with concerns over the threat from Islamist extremism, has been a recruiting boon for right-wing political parties and extremist groups like OSS, according to Bucklitsch.
“When you speak in Germany about Muslims and refugees you find many people who have a problem with the situation,” Bucklitsch said. “The extremists find it’s a new way to recruit people.”
The same day the OSS members were arrested plotting to attack Muslims, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizier announced new statistics showing that extremist violence is rising in Germany. “The number of politically motivated violent crimes has reached a high point since these statistics started being recorded in 2001,” de Maizier said. And, as the Associated Press noted, De Maiziere also drew attention to the increased violence targeting immigrants. In 2014, right-wing extremists attacked refugee housing a reported 175 times, up from 58 such attacks in 2013.