A trial has begun for eight German men accused of forming a neo-Nazi cell aimed at carrying out “systemic change” through a violent campaign against immigrants, German citizens with foreign ancestry, reporters and political “opponents”.
The men, who range in age from 21 to 32, appeared in a federal court in Dresden, the capital of Saxony state, on Monday on charges of “forming a right-wing terrorist organisation”. All of them are members of the group “Revolution Chemnitz” and plotted to carry out “armed and deadly attacks”, prosecutors said.
The case has been described by Federal Public Prosecutor General Peter Frank as “one of the most significant proceedings in the area of right-wing terrorism”.
Authorities believe the group’s members were trying to acquire semi-automatic weapons and draw others from across Europe to carry out a potential bloodbath last year in Berlin on October 3, Germany’s Unity Day.
Those plans were foiled when seven of the men were arrested in coordinated raids on October 1, 2018. Their alleged ringleader, 32-year-old electrician Christian Keilberg, was picked up two weeks later for attacking immigrants.
“They wanted to change the history of the Federal Republic of Germany and bring about a transformation of the political system,” Kai Lohse, federal prosecutor, told the court.
The defendants belong to the hooligan, neo-Nazi and skinhead scene in and around Chemnitz, a town near the border of the Czech Republic, which was the site of anti-migrant street violence following the murder of a German man in August last year.
The region is considered a far-right stronghold, where resentment of Chancellor Angela Merkel‘s liberal refugee policy runs deep. More than a million asylum seekers have arrived in Germany since 2015.
Security agencies hope the trial, which is set to last until at least April 2020 and will include about 75 witnesses, will reveal exactly what the group had plotted and the scope of the network they operated within.
The arrested men launched an online chat group in early September 2018, shortly after the knife killing of the German citizen, prosecutors said. A 24-year-old Syrian man was sentenced to nine and a half years in jail last month for that attack.
On September 14, five of the suspects “armed with glass bottles, weighted knuckle gloves and an electroshock appliance, attacked and hurt several foreign residents” in Chemnitz, according to prosecutors.
“Investigations show that the assault was a test-run for an event that one of the accused planned for October 3, 2018,” the prosecutors said.
The men outlined the attacks in the chat on the Telegram app, which was found on the members’ mobile phones. They described “exterminating” immigrants and political enemies and “hunting” foreigners in the messages, according to prosecutors.
In the chat, the group boasted that they wanted their actions to make the National Socialist Underground (NSU), a neo-Nazi cell uncovered in 2011 that allegedly murdered 10 people and planted three bombs, look like a “kindergarten group” in comparison.
A lawyer for one of the defendants has called the case “politically motivated and disproportionate”.