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East German far-right group faces terrorism charges

Tuesday, March 7, 2017 - 10:13

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Eight members of a German far-right group will face trial for terrorism on Tuesday, accused of attacks against refugees and political opponents in 2015.

[DRESDEN] Eight members of a German far-right group will face trial for terrorism on Tuesday, accused of attacks against refugees and political opponents in 2015.

The so-called "Freital group" - named for their hometown outside Dresden, the capital of the eastern state of Saxony - is made up of seven men aged 19 to 39 and a 28-year-old woman.

Prosecutors say the group organised five attacks with explosives between July and November 2015 against refugee housing and left-wing organisations, causing two injuries.

Charges against them include creating a terrorist group, attempted murder and dangerous bodily harm.

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"By these means, they wanted to create a climate of fear and repression," federal prosecutors said last November as they sent the case for trial in Dresden.

Expecting a long trial, authorities have spent five million euros (S$3.3 million) fitting out a specially-constructed courtroom, including on-site prison cells, in a structure originally built to house refugees on the outskirts of the city.

With anti-migrant sentiment high across the former communist East, authorities plan to guard the hearings closely.

Dresden in particular has been a focal point for xenophobic groups as the home of the anti-Islam street movement Pegida.

Freital was already making headlines across Germany in the summer of 2015, as images of rage-fuelled demonstrations against "criminal foreigners" and "asylum-seeking pigs" were beamed around the country.

That period saw the refugee crisis take on its full dimensions, with Chancellor Angela Merkel's September 4 decision to open Germany's borders to refugees and migrants travelling via Hungary and Austria.

Prosecutors say the defendants travelled to the Czech Republic and secured "a large quantity of explosives", planning to use them against refugee housing and the "homes, offices and vehicles" of local left-wingers.

The charge sheet includes an attack on a car belonging to the leader of far-left party Die Linke in Freital in which no one was hurt, on the night of July 27-28, 2015.

On the night of September 19-20, the group allegedly threw an explosive through the kitchen window of a refugee home.

While the blast wave hurled glass fragments into the opposite wall 4m away, none of the residents was harmed as they were all asleep some distance away.

The following night, still according to prosecutors, they threw stones and home-made devices containing foul-smelling butyric acid at a social housing project, harming one of the inhabitants.

The final attack came on the night of October 31 to November 1, when three explosives were hurled at the windows of a refugee housing centre. Miraculously only one person was harmed, suffering "multiple cuts" to the face, as others took cover.

Police arrested the two suspected ringleaders of the "Freital Group", named only as Timo S and Patrick F, at the end of 2015.

Timo S was handed a one-year suspended sentence last year for attacking a car belonging to pro-refugee demonstrators with a baseball bat.

The remainder of the group was arrested in April 2016, when Dresden prosecutors handed the terrorism case on to federal investigators, after being accused of dragging their feet.

The defendants face sentences up to life imprisonment if found guilty of attempted murder, or one to 10 years' prison for being a part of a terrorist group.

In 2016, Germany saw around 3,500 attacks against refugees and asylum seekers - 10 each day, on average - harming 560 victims including 43 children, interior ministry data show.

Saxony, with just five per cent of the German population, saw 437 attacks last year, according to the RAA victims' assistance organisation, after 477 in 2015.

AFP

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