In what security officials are calling a significant escalation in the scale of left-wing violence in Germany, an major arson attack on cables disrupted rail traffic in Berlin on Monday, disturbing S-Bahn suburban as well as regional train service in the capital. The cable fire also led to delays on some long-distance trains.
A left-wing group claimed responsibility for the fire at the Ostkreuz station in eastern Berlin in an online statement, saying the act was a protest against nuclear power and what it described as militarism and racism. No arrests have yet been made in connection with the attack, but investigators said they believe the statement is authentic and that evidence points to a targeted attack.
"After all the catastrophes, we are fed up," the statement read. "There is nothing left to negotiate when it comes to an immediate exit from nuclear power." The group claimed that German national railway Deutsche Bahn, which operates Berlin's S-Bahn service, implicitly supports the atomic industry by providing access to its tracks for nuclear waste transports.
'The Scene Should Be Taken More Seriously'
The country's German Police Federation (GdP) union called the fire and resulting chaos a "new level of escalation in left-wing extremist terror," demanding increased efforts to fight such anarchist groups, who are called Autonomen in Germany and widely referred to as the "Black Bloc" abroad.
"Berlin faces a new security challenge," GdP leader Bernhard Witthaut said in a statement. "The Red Army Faction also started out with so-called harmless violence against objects. But later people were murdered."
The incident is just the latest in a string of attacks attributed to left-wing extremists, Witthaut said, citing a similar cable fire in November 2010 and the firebombing of a Berlin police station just last month.
"The domestic intelligence agency's warnings that the most violent left-wing extremists live in Berlin -- and that the scene is becoming even more aggressive -- should be taken much more seriously," he said.
6,600 Extremists Capable of Violence
In terms of police dealings, left-wing extremists tend to be a bigger problem for German security officials than neo-Nazis. The anarchists are notorious for setting luxury cars ablaze in Berlin and Hamburg and attacking police. Interior Ministry criminal statistics for 2010 released this month showed that while politically motivated crime dropped overall by some 13.4 percent compared to the previous year, left-wing extremist crime surpassed that of the right and reached the second-highest level since 2001.
Germany's Interior Ministry estimates the country is home to around 31,600 left-wing extremists, mostly members or supporters of parties and organizations with revolutionary-Marxist leanings. Of those, an estimated 6,600 are believed to be "potentially violent," with a large concentration residing in the capital city.
Police in Berlin have recently made some progress in fighting left-wing extremism, with the number of arson attacks on cars attributed to anarchists down to 54 in 2010 from 145 a year earlier. According to the German news agency DPA, police attributed the success to both closer monitoring and new thinking on the part of extremists, who were widely criticized for indiscriminately burning cars -- not just those of the rich, but also the poor and people with modest incomes.
Still, Monday's attack shows that the problem persists. An unnamed S-Bahn employee told the local daily Berliner Zeitung that the incident is the latest in a series of what appear to be targeted disruptions of key control points in the commuter rail network.
"Recently there have been a number of incidents, mainly at critical positions," he said. "Somebody knows what they are doing and wants to cause serious damage."
Despite overnight efforts to repair the cables, train service remained limited along eastern Berlin routes on Tuesday, and passengers were advised to find alternative transportation.