Germany: Growing risk of neo-Nazi terrorist attacks

  BERLIN (AA) - Right-wing extremists in Germany increasingly lean towards violence and the use of online platforms spread propaganda, the country's Interior Ministry said.</p>  <p>Among 24,000 far-right extremists identified by security services, more than half are violence-oriented, the ministry said in response to a parliamentary question, which was made public on Friday.</p>  <p>The online propaganda of far-right groups via social media networks and other online platforms may lead to the more rapid radicalization of individuals and groups, and incite them to commit acts of violence, the ministry also said. </p>  <p>Far-right extremists carried out some 688 violent attacks against foreigners, immigrants or political rivals last year, according to official figures. </p>  <p>At least 386 individuals were injured in these attacks.</p>  <p>Konstantin Kuhle, a liberal lawmaker from the opposition Free Democratic Party, has called on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition government to prepare a new security concept to prevent and counter radicalisation on the Internet. </p>  <p>Germany has witnessed growing xenophobia and anti-migrant hatred in recent years, triggered by far-right propaganda which have exploited fears tied to the refugee crisis and terrorism.</p>  <p>German opposition parties have long called on the government to take strong action against far-right propaganda, fearing further radicalization of sympathizers and a new wave of violence.

Spanish elections marked by rise of far right

by Alyssa McMurtry

MADRID (AA) – Spain will hold its third general elections in four years on Sunday amid an atmosphere of indecision and rise of the far right.

Polls suggest that around 40% of the electorate was undecided just a week before the national vote.

Since 2015, when Spain’s predominantly two-party political system came to an end, the country has had major difficulties forming a government.

In the 2015 elections, two new parties broke onto Spain’s political landscape – the far left Podemos party and center-right Ciudadanos (Citizens) party. Prior to that, Spanish politics had been dominated by the Popular Party and the Socialist Party. However, issues including corruption, the economic crisis and the growing Catalan separatist movement gave rise to the new political parties.

Their entry into Spanish politics resulted in a Parliament so fragmented that politicians were unable to elect a government. As a result of the political deadlock, general elections were held in 2016.

In 2016, the results of the national election were similarly inconclusive. However, after nearly 10 months with only a caretaker government, Spain’s parliament managed to elect the Popular Party, led by Mariano Rajoy, as the governing party.

Yet, with support from less than half of the Spanish Parliament, the government was toppled in 2018 by a motion of no confidence submitted by the Socialist Party. That is when Pedro Sanchez, the current frontrunner for Sunday’s elections, became Spain’s prime minister.

While Sanchez was able to pass some legislation including a 22% hike in minimum wage, he was unable to pass the 2019 budget and called another round of national elections in the hopes of improving Spain’s governability.

Although the latest polls show the largest voting bloc is undecided, they suggest that the Socialist Party is in the lead, followed by the conservative Popular Party, Citizens, Podemos and Vox.

  • Far-right party makes inroads

Vox is the new addition to Spain’s already fragmented political scene. It is the first far-right party to gain significant political traction since the death of the country’s fascist dictator Francisco Franco in 1975 and is expected to win its first seats in the national parliament on Sunday.

Last December, Vox exceeded expectations and won 12 seats in Andalusia’s regional elections. The latest polls suggest that the party has gone from having virtually no support on the national level to around 11% of popular support. .

Vox’s campaign has been marked by a hard-line position on Catalan separatism, which reached a boiling point in 2017 when a referendum was held on the question of independence. Spanish police cracked down on the vote but the region’s separatist politicians subsequently declared independence.

As a result, the Spanish central government assumed political control of Catalonia and laid charges against the separatist politicians.

Today, several Catalan politicians are in preventative prison while their trials for charges including treason are ongoing, or in self-imposed exile in other European nations.

But for Vox, the Spanish government’s reaction to Catalan separatism was not firm enough.

“We will not permit Spain to commit suicide,” said Vox’s leader Santiago Abascal during its massive final rally in Madrid on Friday night.

Besides Spanish unity, Vox has campaigned on a populist platform that rejects some forms of immigration and feminism. Abascal has made the media and progressive left his enemies and has drawn heavily on the symbolism of the Spanish Reconquista, which was when Christians regained control of the Iberian Peninsula from Muslims in the fifteenth century.

Steve Bannon, Donald Trump’s former chief strategist, has become a consultant for Vox, and the party seems to be taking many of the same pages from the U.S. president’s playbook. Vox’s rallies are explosive, attracting thousands of people, and the party is playing on the fear, frustration and resentment of patriotic Spaniards who feel neglected by traditional party politics.

“This is the first party that is telling it as it is, not speaking in half-truths and fighting for Spain,” Santiago, 25, told Anadolu Agency after the Vox rally on Friday.

While Vox is unlikely to become the dominant political force after Sunday’s polls, it could be placed in a kingmaker position and has caused increasing polarization between Spain’s left and right.

While the results of Spain’s elections on Sunday are impossible to predict, the most likely possibilities are a left-wing coalition, which may have to resort to the controversial support of regional nationalist parties or a right-wing coalition backed by Vox.

Another likely outcome is that no obvious coalitions exist and Spain’s Parliament again goes months without a functioning government. That scenario could cause voters to return to the polls in national elections long before the government’s four-year term is up.

Poor representation fuels populism in Europe: Study

  By Ayhan Simsek

BERLIN (AA) – Many European voters feel poorly represented by politics and are leaning towards supporting populist parties from the left or far-right in May's European Parliament elections, a new study has revealed.

On average, only about six of every 100 voters identify positively with a party, said the study carried out by the German-based Bertelsmann Foundation.

Around 49% of the respondents said they no longer identified themselves with a major political party, but vote against parties they most strongly rejected.

"The more people feel poorly represented by politics, the more receptive they become to populist messages and the more likely they are to elect populist parties," said Robert Vehrkamp, co-author of the study, "Europe's Choice".

The study found that over 10% of voters would back populist right-wing or extreme-right parties, more than the support shown for any other political grouping.

According to the study, Euroskeptic and populist parties have managed to mobilize their supporters and created a stable voter base for themselves in a relatively short period of time ahead of the elections.

Around 450 million eligible voters in the EU member states will elect new representatives to the European Parliament on May 23-26.

Right-wing, anti-immigrant parties are favored to make gains, according to polls.

Far-right uses Notre Dame fire for propaganda

  BERLIN (AA) - Germany’s far-right politicians shared xenophobic conspiracies and provocative messages on social media following the massive fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on Monday. </p> <p> Alice Weidel, co-chairwoman of far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD), speculated on Twitter that the Notre Dame fire could be an attack targeting Christians, although French authorities ruled out arson or any terror-related motive. </p> <p>Weidel claimed that in February alone 47 attacks were recorded in France that targeted Christians and their churches. </p> <p>AfD lawmaker Anton Friesen tried to exploit the Notre Dame fire to propagate the party’s anti-Muslim narrative. </p> <p>“Worse would happen if we lose our religion and culture to Islam. The mosque of Notre Dame can soon be a reality faster than one may think,” he tweeted. </p> <p>The AfD’s local branch in the western city of Solingen spread false information online soon after the fire, further stoking fear of Muslims and immigrants in Germany. </p> <p>“Attacks against traditional symbols of Christianity would significantly increase in the coming years and we all know why!  #NoIslam #Germany,” the AfD’s local branch posted on Facebook.</p> <p>The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), which is the largest opposition party at the parliament, has intensified its anti-Islam rhetoric ahead of European Parliament elections in May.</p> <p>Germany has witnessed growing Islamophobia and hatred of migrants in recent years triggered by the propaganda of the AfD and other far-right parties, which have exploited fears over the refugee crisis and terrorism.</p> <p>Police recorded 813 hate crimes against Muslims last year.  At least 54 Muslims were injured in the attacks, which were carried out mostly by far-right extremists.</p> <p>Germany, a country of over 81 million people, has the second-largest Muslim population in Western Europe after France. Among the country’s nearly 4.7 million Muslims, 3 million are of Turkish origin.

Muslim woman wearing headscarf attacked in Berlin

             BERLIN (AA) -  A suspected far-right extremist verbally and physically assaulted a Muslim woman at a Berlin metro station, police said on Monday.</p>  <p>The incident was the latest in a string of xenophobic attacks in the German capital in recent months targeting people of foreign appearance, including Muslim women with headscarf or Jews wearing a kippah. </p>  <p>The 33-year old Muslim woman told police on Sunday that a man uttered racial slurs and later assaulted her at the Greifswalder metro station. </p>  <p>The suspected far-right extremist showed the illegal Nazi salute before running away from the scene, she said.</p>  <p>The woman received medical treatment for her injuries, according to the police.</p>  <p>Germany has witnessed growing violence by far-right extremists in recent years, fuelled by the propaganda of neo-Nazi groups and the Islamophobic AfD party. </p>  <p>Every day, at least three people become a victim of far-right, racist or xenophobic acts of violence in Germany, according to the VBRG, an umbrella group of counseling centers for victims of right-wing violence.

Turks in Germany demand action against racism

            By Ayhan Simsek

BERLIN (AA) – Germany’s Turkish community has called for urgent action to combat increasing racism, intolerance and discrimination in the country.

“We are in a worrying situation today with verbal and physical attacks becoming part of everyday life,” Turkish immigrant organization TBB said in a statement marking the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

The organization slammed far-right politicians for spreading hate against immigrants, refugees, Muslims and Jews in the country and called on the government and democratic political parties to step up efforts against racism and xenophobia.

“We need more effective protection against racism which must be ensured by relevant legislation,” it said.

-Far-right violence

German police recorded 19,105 far-right crimes in 2018, according to the latest government figures.

Far-right extremists carried out some 1,072 violent attacks against foreigners, immigrants or political rivals.

At least 498 people were injured in the attacks inspired by far-right ideologies.

-Islamophobic crimes

Anti-Muslim attacks and incidents of abuse remain a serious problem for Germany.

The police recorded 578 hate crimes against Muslims between January and September last year, according to the most recent official figures.

At least 40 Muslims were injured in the attacks, which were mostly carried out by far-right extremists.

Anti-Muslim crimes recorded by the police included insults, threatening letters, physical assaults and attacks against mosques.

UK: 'Far-right' stabbing treated as terrorist incident

By Muhammad Mussa

LONDON (AA) – U.K. police are treating the stabbing of a young man as an act of terrorism as the perpetrator was inspired by the far-right.

On Saturday night a 19 year old man was stabbed in the county of Surrey and a 50 year old man was arrested near the scene on suspicion of attempted murder and racially aggravated public disorder.

“Whilst this investigation is still in its infancy, it has hallmarks of a terror event, inspired by the far-right, and therefore it has been declared a terrorism incident" said Neil Basu, head of the Metropolitan Police’s counter terrorism unit.

The victim, who’s identity is yet unknown, was stabbed in the hand and though he remains in hospital, his injuries are not life threatening.

Prior to the stabbing, Surrey police were called to a village near Heathrow Airport, responding to reports of a man behaving aggressively, carrying baseball bat and a knife and shouting racial slurs and comments. Police believe this is the same suspect who stabbed the young man.

Basu said that by declaring the incident an act of terror, police are able to use all the resources available to them in investigating the full nature of the attack and will help them reach a credible conclusion as to causes behind it.

"The investigation is being led by an investigation team based in the Counter Terrorism Policing South East region, who are working closely with our colleagues in Surrey Police in order to build a better picture of what has occurred,” Basu said.

“Police are committed to tackling all forms of toxic extremist ideology, which has the potential to threaten public safety and security” he added.

The incident follows the terrorist attack in New Zealand which killed at least 50 people during Friday's prayers at the Al Noor and Linwood mosques in Christchurch, the third-largest city of the country.

Following the terrorist attack in New Zealand, Islamic institutions across the U.K. have urged the government to intensify efforts in protecting the British Muslim community, their places of worship and their community centres as there is a heightened sense of fear of repercussions.

Neo-Nazis behind bomb threats in Germany: Report

                                       BERLIN (AA) - German authorities are investigating suspected new Neo-nazi groups after more than 100 bomb and death threats were sent to lawyers, politicians and institutions in recent weeks, local media reported on Thursday.</p>    <p>Daily Suddeutsche Zeitung said prosecutors concluded that there was a connection between various threatening emails recently sent to prominent public figures and institutions in different cities across Germany.</p>    <p>The emails, all of which used similar wording, were signed off with &quot;Wehrmacht”, &quot;National Socialist Offensive,&quot; or the &quot;NSU 2.0”,  with a reference to the terrorist group National Socialist Underground (NSU).</p>    <p>The shadowy NSU group killed 10 people, including eight Turkish and one Greek immigrant as well as a police officer between 2000 and 2007, but the murders have remained unresolved.</p>    <p>Turkish-German lawmaker Seda Basay-Yildiz, who represented the families of victims, received various death threats in recent months signed off with the NSU 2.0.</p>    <p>In December, five police officers in Frankfurt were suspended on suspicion they took personal information of Basay-Yildiz from police records and shared them with the far-right extremists.   

UK’s far-right may exploit Brexit: Counter-terror chief

                                 By Ahmet Gurhan Kartal</p>    <p>LONDON (AA) - The far-right groups in Britain will exploit tensions caused by Brexit, head of the country’s counter-terrorism policing said on Wednesday.</p>    <p>Speaking to The Guardian, Neil Basu said he was concerned that &quot;far right wing rhetoric from those lawfully allowed to operate will fuel tensions.&quot;</p>    <p>“My concern is the polarisation, and I fear the far-right politicking and rhetoric leads to a rise in hate crime and a rise in disorder,” Basu said.</p>    <p>He said he was seeing an increase in far-right activity from small but vocal groups as the Brexit uncertainties continue.</p>    <p>“I am concerned about a small number of individuals trying to make a name for themselves such as Tommy Robinson,” he told The Guardian.</p>    <p>Tommy Robinson, or Stephen Christopher Yaxley-Lennon with his birth name, is the founder of extreme right-wing and Islamophobic group the English Defence League (EDL).</p>    <p>“It [Brexit] generates a permissive atmosphere to people who want to take their argument to more extreme levels,” he said.</p>    <p>The  counter-terrorism policing chief said indicators used by police to measure how communities are feeling were already showing some rise in tensions.</p>    <p><br>
  • Hate crime

“We are monitoring if the intelligence suggests public order difficulties because of Brexit,” Basu said.

“So far it is not. We are planning for it, because it is sensible to plan for it. That potential exists,” he added.

Hate crimes recorded by the U.K. authorities rose more than a double over the past five years, according to latest figures from the Home Office.

Police in England and Wales recorded 17 percent more hate crime offenses with 94,098 cases from April 2017 to March 2018.

The rise represents an increase of 123 percent since 2012-13, during which 42,255 hate crimes were recorded.

The Home Office confirmed the increase came following several events “such as the EU referendum and the terrorist attacks in 2017.”

Basu also warned that the damage from a no-deal Brexit to policing and security could be serious. “It is a very serious flaw in our security arrangements,” he said.

“If we have no-deal Brexit, and we could not share that information, and if we lose access to those systems, it will inevitably make the U.K. and Europe less safe than it is today,” he added.

The U.K. is set to leave the EU on March 29, 2019.

German far-right leader faces investigation

By Ayhan Simsek

BERLIN (AA) – Alice Weidel, co-leader of Germany’s far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), has been placed under formal investigation over claims of taking illegal donations.

The public prosecutor's office in the southern Germany city of Konstanz announced on Tuesday that it has opened an investigation against Weidel and three other AfD members due to the initial suspicion for breaching Political Parties Act.

The AfD confirmed last week that Weidel’s constituency received last year around €132,000 ($150,049) donation from a pharmaceutical company in Switzerland, but claimed that this has been returned earlier this year due to doubts about its legality.

Germany’s strict legislation on party funding prohibits donations from non-EU countries in excess of €1000.

The Islamophobic, far-right AfD scored record gains in federal elections last year and entered the parliament for the first time.