Germany's neo-Nazi scene has been under intense scrutiny since the murderous far-right Zwickau cell terrorist group was discovered last November, and police have been accused of making glaring mistakes in the case. But on Thursday news emerged that law enforcement in the country has had significant success in pursuing other neo-Nazi suspects this year.
According to information obtained in response to a parliamentary inquiry by the far-left Left Party, of the 160 neo-Nazis currently on wanted lists, 46 have been arrested since January, daily Süddeutsche Zeitung reported. After learning of the Zwickau cell's crimes -- which include the alleged murder of nine immigrants and one police officer -- the Federal Criminal Police Office reviewed its wanted lists nationwide, the paper reported.
Among the far-right fugitives are seven suspects who are listed on international wanted lists, but they are thought to have gone underground. And while the neo-Nazi scene is most closely associated with economically disadvantaged eastern Germany, the largest number of neo-Nazis on the run are actually from the country's large western states, the report said.
The warrants issued for the suspects are for offenses ranging from violent crimes and hate crimes to other illegal activities typical to the neo-Nazi scene, including incitement to racial hatred, the making of Hitler salutes and wearing symbols from banned organizations.
Ordinary Crimes Too
But of the 160 right-wing extremists being sought, only 50 have allegedly committed "right-wing politically motivated crimes," the Interior Ministry said. Others are wanted for ordinary crimes including fraud, theft and narcotics offenses. Investigators did not reveal how long the suspects in question had been at large.
Ulla Jelpke, the domestic policy spokeswoman for the far-left Left Party, criticized the statistics, telling the Süddeutsche Zeitung that law enforcement officials had "whitewashed" them. A number of cases in which neo-Nazis made Hitler salutes or wore banned symbols were not counted as "politically motivated" crimes, she said.
The report's findings came just one day after German police staged a series of raids at locations associated with the far-right in four states on Tuesday. According to reports, the investigation targeted 33 people accused of crimes including dangerous bodily harm and founding a criminal organization.
Progress Towards Far-Right Party Ban
In other efforts to crack down on the neo-Nazi scene in Germany, state interior ministers for the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU) have made a move that could clear the way for a ban of the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD). They agreed on Tuesday to deactivate informants working for Germany's domestic intelligence agency in the NPD's upper levels before the end of spring, a spokesman for the Lower Saxony Interior Ministry said Wednesday.
The placement of these informants has been seen as the biggest impediment to an NPD ban. A previous attempt to ban the party in 2003 failed because of the presence of paid informants in the party. Germany's Federal Constitutional Court rejected a move to outlaw the party when it was revealed that intelligence agency informants held senior positions within the NPD. The court argued that it was possible that the party's policies had partly been shaped by informants working for the agency.
Despite the CDU/CSU's decision, deactivating all of the informants from the NPD would be "irresponsible," Lower Saxony Interior Minister Uwe Schünemann told the regional newspaper Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung, adding that they provide a significant amount of information. But CDU/CSU politicians reportedly plan to present a resolution to remove most of the informants at an interior ministers conference on March 22. According to Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel, informants in the NPD's upper levels have already been deactivated.
The opposition center-left Social Democrats welcomed the news as a success. "I am relieved that the conservative interior ministers have finally decided to deactivate the informants," senior SPD politician Thomas Oppermann told news agency DPA on Wednesday. "Now evidence must be gathered as quickly as possible and preparations must be completed for proceedings to ban the party," he said, adding that the goal should be for the ban to take place before federal elections in 2013.