Germany: Hundreds of neo-Nazis free despite arrest warrants

German police have a problem finding and arresting violent neo-Nazis. The government admitted as much in a response to a parliamentary request from an opposition party. Recent history shows how dangerous this problem is.

The German government has admitted that 467 neo-Nazis are at large throughout the country despite active warrants for their arrest.

The government acknowledged the figures in a response to a parliamentary request for information by the opposition Left Party. Of the 467 neo-Nazis, 32 are thought to have fled Germany to hide out abroad. An additional seven perpetrators of right-wing crimes in Germany are wanted by security authorities from other countries

According to the response, the number of neo-Nazis wanted by German police has nearly doubled in the past four years. The government cited the massive influx of refugees as one reason for the spike. Right-wing attacks against asylum centers, it said, have increased significantly since 2015.

Criminologist Christian Pfeiffer confirmed that trend. "For a long time we saw an increase in right-wing crime, so it's normal that there are still many outstanding arrest warrants from back then," he told DW. "I do believe that number will go down again, because the right-wing extremist scene has quieted down some for now."

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Read more: Why a German neo-Nazi group was charged with terrorism

'Alarming sign'

Left Party lawmaker Ulla Jelpke criticized law enforcement for failing to reduce overall numbers.

"The security authorities need to think of something to capture these fugitive Nazis more quickly," she told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung.

More than a quarter of the right-wing extremists are considered prone to violence, with just over 100 wanted for committing a violent crime.

Authorities warn that many could commit fresh crimes at right-wing rallies or music concerts.

"The figures are an alarming sign that the Nazi scene is and remains violent and criminal," Jelpke said.

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General increase in outstanding arrest warrants

The increase in the number of neo-Nazis with outstanding arrest warrants is in line with a general rise in outstanding arrest warrants in Germany. In March 2018, German police had 175,397 arrest warrants on file that had yet to be enforced. This number has been rising steadily since 2014. Compared to March 2017, it has increased by 7.5 percent.

"We need a personnel increase for our police forces," Pfeiffer said. "We're always told that more officers are being hired, but many are retiring as well, so that number needs to be rehired and then some."

The number of outstanding arrest warrants varies from state to state. While there are only seven per 10,000 inhabitants in Germany's northern-most state of Schleswig-Holstein, there are 23 in Bavaria and 24 in Berlin.

Infografik Haftbefehle Deutschland EN

The 467 neo-Nazis at large make up only a small fraction of all outstanding arrest warrants. Of the more than 175,000 warrants, quite a large number are believed to concern minor misdemeanors such as being caught without a ticket on public transport multiple times and refusing to pay your fine.

A spokesperson for Bavaria's interior ministry stressed that police are looking for all people with an outstanding arrest warrant, but are prioritizing their search according to the severity of the crime.

"Bavaria's police are hard at work searching for suspects and convicted criminals who have a warrant out for their arrest," the spokesperson told DW. "Arrest warrants linked to rape and homicide are treated with the highest priority."

Neo-Nazis underground: The NSU

Among the more famous cases of German neo-Nazis evading arrest is that of the National Socialist Underground, or NSU. The existence of the neo-Nazi terrorist group was revealed in 2011, when two members were discovered dead in a burning mobile home and the third member of the core trio, Beate Zschäpe, turned herself in.

Before that, the group had been living underground for more than a decade, with the help of their supporters. Between 2000 and 2007, they murdered nine immigrants and a police officer, robbed numerous banks and carried out three bombings.

A local court in Saxony put out warrants for their arrest as early as 1998, after the trio were linked to bombs left in suitcases painted with swastikas. They managed to evade capture, however, and began their killing spree two years later.

The victims of the neo-Nazi NSU murder spree

10 victims, 10 tragedies

Nine of the 10 victims were of foreign heritage, but they had all made Germany their home when they were killed. The 10th victim was a German police officer. Every one of them was shot in cold blood.

The victims of the neo-Nazi NSU murder spree

Enver Simsek

On September 9, 2000, the florist Enver Simsek, pictured with his wife, was shot eight times. The 38-year-old father of two sold flowers near a small parking lot in the southern city of Nuremberg. Simsek, who migrated from Turkey to Germany in 1986, is believed to be the first murder victim in the NSU series of racially motivated killings.

The victims of the neo-Nazi NSU murder spree

Abdurrahim Ozudogru

Also in Nuremberg, Turkish-born tailor Abdurrahim Ozudogru was shot on June 13, 2001 in his alteration shop. He was 49 years old with a daughter who was 19 at the time of his murder.

The victims of the neo-Nazi NSU murder spree

Suleyman Taskopru

Later that month, on June 27, 2001 Suleyman Taskopru was shot dead in his father's fruit and vegetable shop in Hamburg. He was 31 years old and had a three-year-old daughter.

The victims of the neo-Nazi NSU murder spree

Habil Kilic

On August 29 of the same year, 38-year-old Habil Kilic, who was also a fruit and vegetable grocer, was killed in his shop in Munich. Like Taskopru, he was shot in the head. His wife and his 12-year-old daughter later left Germany.

The victims of the neo-Nazi NSU murder spree

Mehmet Turgut

Mehmet Turgut lived in Hamburg, but was visiting a friend in the eastern German city of Rostock and helping out at a Doner kebab fast food restaurant when he was shot on February 25, 2004. He was killed by three bullets to the head.

The victims of the neo-Nazi NSU murder spree

Ismail Yasar

Ismail Yasar was shot five times in his doner kebab restaurant in Nuremberg on June 9, 2005. A customer found him behind the counter. The 50-year-old had three children.

The victims of the neo-Nazi NSU murder spree

Theodoros Boulgarides

Just a few days later, on June 15, 2005, Theodoros Boulgarides was shot dead in Munich in his lock and key service shop. He was the only victim with Greek heritage. The 41-year-old father of two was the NSU's seventh murder victim.

The victims of the neo-Nazi NSU murder spree

Mehmet Kubasik

On a busy street at noon on April 4, 2006 in the western city of Dortmund, Turkish-born Mehmet Kubasik was killed by several shots to the head in his small convenience store. The 39-year-old left behind a wife and three children.

The victims of the neo-Nazi NSU murder spree

Halit Yozgat

In Kassel on April 6, 2006, Halit Yozgat was also shot in the head. He was killed in the internet cafe he ran with his father. Twenty-one years old, Turkish-born but with a German passport, Yozgat was taking night school classes to graduate from high school.

The victims of the neo-Nazi NSU murder spree

Michele Kiesewetter

Michele Kiesewetter, a 22-year-old police officer, was shot dead on April 25, 2007 in the southwestern city of Heilbronn. She was the NSU's 10th and final murder victim.

"The police don't have the means to track down every single criminal," Pfeiffer said. "If they're not successful and the person at large isn't presumed immediately dangerous to the rest of the population, officers just wait until the person gets themselves caught."

In the case of the NSU murders, police suspected for a long time that the perpetrators would be connected or even related to the victims. The escaped neo-Nazis weren't on their radar at all.

That oversight means the 467 neo-Nazis who currently have warrants out for their arrest are particularly concerning to the general populace.

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