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More violent neo-Nazis in Germany

May 3, 2011 at 4:45 PM   |   Comments

BERLIN, May 3 (UPI) -- Political support for Germany's far-right is waning but the number of neo-Nazis ready to commit violence is on the rise, the head of the country's security agency said.

"The violent neo-Nazi scene has become stronger," Heinz Fromm, president of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, told the daily Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung in an interview. "This group increased in numbers again by 600, rising to 5,600 people," during the past year. In 2000, Fromm's office had recorded 2,000 violent neo-Nazis, he said.

It seems that more neo-Nazis are drawn to violence because they're frustrated with the role of the National Democratic Party, or NPD, a far-right political group that is playing on immigration and joblessness fears.

Fromm revealed that the party's membership dropped by 300 people past year, down to 6,600 members. At the height of the party's popularity, in 2007, the NPD had 7,200 members.

In the late 2000s, the NPD became a strong local force in the economically weaker regions of eastern Germany, placing its politicians in local and regional Parliaments of Saxony and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.

Recently, however, the party has been plagued by financial problems, however, after it surfaced that one of its executives may have embezzled more than $1 million.

Yet as the NPD loses members, extremist groups are recruiting new people. Among them the so-called "Autonomous Nationalists," a group that refuses to take part in the political process, which it tries to undermine with protests and violence. Its membership last year increased from 800 to 1,000 people, Fromm said.

"The Autonomous Nationalists, who during marches have characterized themselves with violence, continue to gain momentum," Fromm said.

Despite these developments, Germany's overall far-right scene, which includes non-violent sympathizers, has shrunk by 1,600 to a total of 25,000 people, Fromm said.

The head of the country's internal security agency also warned of another threat -- that of foreign-based online spy attacks on companies and federal agencies.

Fromm said his agency recorded 2,100 spy attacks on federal agencies in 2010, a surge of 40 percent compared to the previous year. Most attacks originate in Asia and Russia, he added, suggesting that foreign spy services are to be blamed.

German companies are known for their high-quality engineering and technology expertise, and that makes them lucrative spy targets.

Especially German mid-sized companies underestimate the threat of industrial espionage, Fromm said. Firms that don't invest into a secure IT infrastructure might regret this when it's too late, he added.

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