'Foreigners Out!' Racist Manhunt in Small-Town Germany

The victims were all from India -- their attackers, possible neo-Nazis. A small town in Saxony confronts the possibility of right-wing extremists in their midst.

It's so peaceful in Mügeln, so damn peaceful. Following a strong summer rain, a postcard sunset has basked the cobblestone pavement on the market square in golden light on this Monday evening. Then night falls on the small town in the Döllnitz Valley in the Eastern German state of Saxony. As daylight wanes, the streets quickly become vacant. Mügeln, it seems, has become a ghost town.

Four or five teenagers are still sitting on a bench. They giggle, drink beer and brave a few raindrops. A couple kisses in a car parked in front of the local savings bank. Every now and again, a jazzed-up compact roars by, the music turned up so loud the whole auto body rattles. "Come on now," an old lady hisses at her poodle, tugging the leash. Behind her, the lights go out in the last of the city center's pubs, the Räuberkeller. It's not even 9:00 p.m.

Only the police car parked under a tree in a dark corner of the town square looks out of place on this quiet evening. What could be worthy of surveillance around here?

"The police have said they want to keep their eyes peeled for a bit here," says 35-year-old Kulvir Singh, whose restaurant the officers are watching from their car not far away. Singh is standing behind the wood-panel counter in his pizzeria Picobello on the main road of Mügeln. Saxony Governor Georg Milbradt, a conservative Christian Democrat, came by earlier in the day to comfort him.

A Regular Manhunt

The Indian's friendly face seems tired now. He ignores the two flies that buzz persistently around his head. Singh has hardly slept during the past 40 hours -- ever since the events of Sunday which led to Milbradt's visit and the cop car out front. Events that are hardly imaginable given the peacefulness and the calm that Mügeln exudes.

Early on Sunday morning following the annual Mügeln municipal festival, Singh and seven of his compatriots were pursued across town -- a regular manhunt -- following an apparently harmless jostle on the dance floor. An angry mob made up of dozens of festival-goers chased down the Indians before severely beating them -- shouting racist insults all the while. Six of the pursued made it into Singh's pizzeria and locked themselves in. The rioters kicked in the front and back doors. Windows were smashed and Singh's car was demolished. Only a large squad of 70 policemen was able to force the romping crowd back, although the policemen were themselves attacked using bottles, glasses and benches. The violent rampage left 14 wounded, including four of the attackers, two policemen and all eight Indians.

Singh has no visible injuries, no cuts, scrapes, or black eyes like some of his friends. But he is concerned about further attacks. "I'm afraid," he says. "I'm now the chief reference point for them, after all."

Them -- the rowdies. The neo-Nazis? "I don't know," says Singh. "It all happened so quickly."

A Neo-Nazi Attack?

Singh, though, is certain that a group of young men on the market place was lying in wait for him and his companions to leave the tent on Saturday night. He says he and the other seven wanted to avoid a confrontation after one fair visitor, an acquaintance of Singh's, warned him of possible "trouble." Asked whether he would say the young rowdies were members of Germany's far-right subculture, Singh shrugs his shoulders.

One eye-witness saw a compact mob of young men walking past his apartment and towards the fair shortly before the attack. In his view, the men were neo-Nazis, judging by their appearance. There was also an e-mail warning about an organized neo-Nazi attack on Mügeln's youth club. The club forwarded the warning to the mayor.

The mayor is now concerned about his little town's reputation. "We have no far-right scene here," Gotthard Deuse of the Liberal Free Democrats (FDP) emphasized repeatedly. If neo-Nazis were to blame for the attack, they must have come from elsewhere -- that much, the mayor says, is certain.

And the mayor has a point. While the state of Saxony is a stronghold of Germany's neo-Nazi National Democratic Party (NPD), the area around Mügeln has not so far attracted attention as a hotbed of far-right activities. But one doesn't have to travel far to find neo-Nazis. The now illegal right-extremist group "Sturm 34" terrorized the nearby town of Mittweida, for example, and there have repeatedly been right-wing attacks in Wurzen in the neighboring Muldental district: Young men bellowed anti-Semitic insults during a children's league soccer game  there in May. Masked neo-Nazis also beat the visitors of a town fair in Breitenborn on Whit Sunday of last year. None of these places is more than 45 minutes away from Mügeln by car.

And even if the instigators of the attack came from outside the town, there is still cause for concern in Mayor Deuse's peaceful hamlet. Locals, it would seem, weren't entirely innocent. Singh, the owner of the pizzeria, says he was threatened by one of his customers shortly before the attack. Another eyewitness claims to have recognized some familiar faces in the angry mob.

Spiral Of Violence

Even worse, several fair visitors are said to have watched the brutal manhunt -- and done nothing to stop it. Some may also have cheered on the attackers while others might have joined in. Was the attack the "will of the people?" It has happened before, albeit on a much more horrifying scale. Fifteen years ago almost to the day, neo-Nazis set fire to a home for asylum seekers in the Eastern German city of Rostock -- and were cheered on by "average citizens." One does not want to imagine what would have happened if the attackers in Mügeln had been armed with Molotov cocktails.

On Monday evening, those few residents of Mügeln who are out and about are tight-lipped. Yes, pretty much the entire town attended the festival. Most say they are appalled. But hardly anyone admits to having seen anything. The older people say they went to bed long before the attack, while younger people ward off the questions they are asked. They have no idea what exactly happened, they say. Neo-Nazis? No, I don't think so. The same remark is made again and again, with minor variations: "We're just a little one-horse town."

Now, the one-horse town has achieved fame all across the country literally overnight. The police do not want to give a definite assessment of the motive behind the orgy of violence for as long as the 15 members of the special investigative team are investigating. The police say they have not yet settled on a xenophobic motivation for the attack.

They have, however, confirmed that attackers chanted "Foreigners Out!" and "The national resistance rules here!" So far though, there have been no arrests. Two suspects were briefly brought in for questioning on Sunday morning following the attack. They were quickly released.

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