German far-right crime rises; police arrest alleged neo-Nazi

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FILE - In this Feb. 19, 2020 file photo, a projectile lies on the sidewalk near a restaurant at the scene of a shooting in central Hanau, Germany. About one year ago a far right man shot nine people before he shot himself. Hanau will commemorate the victims this Friday. (AP Photo/Michael Probst, File)

BERLIN – Berlin police arrested a 53-year-old German man on suspicion of sending dozens of threatening letters to politicians, lawyers and journalists that were signed with the acronym of a neo-Nazi group, as officials warned Tuesday of a disturbing rise in far-right extremism across Germany.

Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said far-right crimes rose 5.65% in 2020, accounting for more than half of all “politically motivated” crimes.

“This shows again that right-wing extremism is the biggest threat for our country,” Seehofer told reporters Tuesday.

In carrying out Monday's arrest in Berlin, police seized an unencrypted hard drive with data that might help with an ongoing probe, said Holger Muench, the head of Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office.

“There was a lot of data, but it needs to be evaluated,” he said.

The suspect, whose name wasn’t released for privacy reasons, has previous convictions for “numerous crimes, including ones motivated by right-wing ideology,” said prosecutors in Frankfurt who are handling the case.

The letters were signed “NSU 2.0.” A German group called the National Socialist Underground was responsible for a string of violent crimes between 1998 and 2011, including the racially motivated killings of nine men with immigrant backgrounds and a police officer. The group's name was derived from the full name of the Nazi, or National Socialist, party.

Police think the suspect sent almost 100 letters to dozens of people and organizations across Germany and Austria since 2018. German news agency dpa reported that investigators think the suspect may have obtained personal data on the people he targeted.