Police and state protection investigators in North Rhine-Westphalia state on Thursday began investigating an anonymous online post claiming responsibility for setting alight incendiary devices at the Düsseldorf depot of a mobile crane hire firm.
One of six cranes of the firm WASEL targeted on Wednesday night bore scorch marks in photos published on Thursday.
WASEL, based at Bergheim near the controversial Hambach open-cast coal mine, said quick intervention by one of its Düsseldorf staff members and firefighters had "prevented the worst."
Energy giant and mine operator RWE plans to cut down ancient woodland, where police recently evicted environmentalists from 86 treehouses, to expand its massive Hambach mine whose lignite is conveyed to power stations west of Cologne.
In the claim of responsibility, the anonymous authors wrote that the crane rental firm had been "attacked because it provided RWE with machines, because it made it possible" for police to clear protesters from the forest.
WASEL said it was a long-time hirer of cranes to RWE but said it had stopped providing "support services" as part of the energy giant's treehouse clearing operation "several days ago."
Blaze near Mönchengladbach
Police had already been investigating a blaze last Sunday night at Willich, near Mönchengladbach, that gutted the warehouse of another company that rents out heavy equipment.
Boels Rental, a Netherlands-based concern with 400 outlets in 11 countries, said it had hired out several lighting towers for the Hambach Forest clearance but its mobile hydraulic platforms were never used during the police operation.
Its personnel had nevertheless been threatened and its premises damaged, Boels said earlier this week, declaring that it was withdrawing its equipment from Hambach "with immediate effect."
Condemnation from Friends of the Earth
Censure over the suspected arson came Tuesday from Dirk Jansen, local spokesman for BUND, the German branch of Friends of the Earth, which is involved alongside Greenpeace and Campact in planning a large environmentalist rally to save Hambach Forest next Saturday.
It was not BUND's way to put hire firms "on the pillory," Jansen told WDR, the main regional public broadcaster in NRW state last Tuesday .
"I understand that people react angrily when they see lifting platforms of hire firms they once trusted again at clearing operations in Hambach Forest", Jansen said. But he added that was no reason for violence or damage to property: "You can't do that at all, that's not our way of protesting."
RWE determined to cull forest
RWE has vowed to fell the ancient trees, a remnant of the forest that once spanned the Hambach mine site, should it get court clearance on 14 October.
Last month, during efforts to clear the longstanding protest treehouses from the forest, a 27-year-old journalist fell to his death from a rope bridge in what authorities said appeared to have been an accident.
A protest scheduled for Saturday "Save the Forest — Stop Coal" was banned by Aachen police on Thursday night on the grounds that "there were significant threats to public safety."
An appeal has been lodged in court against the ban by protest organizers who include environmental groups BUND, Greenpeace, Campact and German Friends of Nature.
In a joint statement on Thursday, the groups said: "Many thousands of people will be on their way to Hambach Forest to demonstrate on Saturday against its destruction by RWE, and the authorities must facilitate this registered and legitimate protest."
ipj/msh (AP, dpa)