German police on Monday released two men they had detained after a suspected neo-Nazi stabbed the police chief of the Bavarian city of Passau in the stomach on Saturday.
Prosecutors said the two men had fitted the description given by Alois Mannichl, who survived the attack after undergoing emergency surgery. However, both had alibis, Mannichl had not recognized either man when he was shown photos of them and DNA tests did not link them with the crime scene.
Police suspect that the attack was carried out by a neo-Nazi and said they were investigating other people from the far-right scene.
Mannichl, 52, a hated figure for local right-wing extremists because he has taken a hard line in tackling them, was stabbed after opening his front door to a bald man who launched into a torrent of abuse, calling him a "left-wing police pig" and declaring "greetings from the national resistance movement" before ramming an 11-centimeter (4.3 inch) blade into his stomach.
Neo-Nazis commonly describe themselves as the "national resistance."
The knife missed Mannichl's heart by two centimeters and he was able to give a description of the assailant.
The attack has led to renewed calls for a crackdown on German neo-Nazis and tougher sentences for far-right offenders.
Horst Seehofer, the governor of Bavaria, said Germany should consider trying once again to ban the far-right National Democratic Party. A previous attempt to outlaw the party failed in 2003 due to a legal bungle when some of the NPD members called to testify were found to be informants of the domestic intelligence agency.
"I want to leave no doubt that we are fighting right-wing extremism here in Bavaria with all means at our disposal," Seehofer said.
If police manage to establish a link between the stabbing and the NPD, the party may indeed be in trouble.
The party issued a statement on its Web site condemning what it called the "insidious attack on the father of two children."
A Serious Escalation of Right-Wing Violence
"Whoever pulled the knife on the Passau police chief has done a major disservice not just to the NPD, but to the entire national resistance movement," the party said in the statement.
But it left no doubt that it was deeply critical of Mannichl. "This turns Alois Mannichl into a martyr, which he isn't," the statement said. "The Passau police chief repeatedly abused his office and pursued the national opposition with the help of his police apparatus."
More than 300 people staged a demonstration against far-right violence on Monday afternoon in Passau.
Bavaria's interior minister, Joachim Herrmann, said the assault showed that far-right violence had reached a new dimension. "This attack on an individual prominent representative of the state is new," Herrmann told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "We must take this escalation of violence very seriously."
Arson attacks and racist assaults by right-wing extremists are part of everyday life in parts of Germany. Authorities have expressed concern this year that the country's neo-Nazi scene is becoming more violent.
Mannichl had been singled out for criticism by the NPD on previous occasions and he had infuriated local neo-Nazis in August when he ordered the grave of prominent Nazi Friedhelm Busse to be reopened days after his funeral after a swastika flag had been laid on the coffin during the ceremony.
The flag, banned under German law because it bore a forbidden far-right symbol, was removed and legal proceedings were instigated against NPD activist Thomas Wulff who had been spotted laying it.
Police believe there's a possible link between the stabbing and the burial of Busse because the man who attacked the police chief had shouted: "You won't be trampling on the graves of our comrades any more."
The chairman of the German police federation, Konrad Freiberg, said neo-Nazis had adopted a new strategy this year of trying to intimidate individual police officers. He told MDR INFO radio that many police involved in tackling the far right were threatened and harassed, even at their homes.
"The right-wingers are getting increasingly cheeky and more violent. And the police are increasingly becoming targets for far-right violence. The authorities must crack down here. These people must be locked up," said Freiberg.