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German police warn of a ‘climate of fear’ and more right-wing extremist violence

A supporter of the anti-Islam Pegida movement holds a poster featuring a crossed sign on veiled women at a protest rally on Oct. 12, 2015. (Robert Michael/AFP via Getty Images)

DRESDEN, Germany — In a bleak assessment, Germany's Federal Police warned on Thursday that the country should be prepared for more politically motivated violence committed by right-wing extremists in the coming months.

"Apart from physical harm, one has to reckon with murders," authorities concluded in a statement. The report came amid allegations that police authorities had failed to confront the country's growing right-wing extremism problem.

Neo-Nazis and their supporters had already created a "climate of fear," according to the report, which said that pro-refugee volunteers, politicians as well as journalists were likely targets of violence.

The influx of refugees into Germany has massively decreased in recent months, following a deal struck with Turkey to accommodate more asylum seekers outside the European Union. Germany took in more than one million refugees last year, but far fewer are expected to arrive this year. However, right-wing extremist violence against asylum seekers and their supporters in Germany is not expected to decrease.

Country-wide xenophobic tensions — which started to attract attention in 2014 — have contributed to the emergence of right-wing networks, according to German police officials. Last week, special forces raided apartments in eastern Germany and arrested five suspects who have been charged with terrorism. The group reportedly targeted homes of asylum seekers.

Hundreds of attacks against such homes and refugee centers were recorded in 2015 and this year. Most of them are believed to have been committed by right-wing extremists, although in some cases, refugees themselves allegedly set their own homes on fire to protest living conditions.

Apart from terrorism networks targeting refugees, police forces also fear that "determined, irrationally acting, fanatic lone offenders" could commit acts of violence in coming months.

Police statistics also offer insight into another new aspect that defines right-wing attacks on refugees in Germany: Since 2014, the number of women blamed for those acts of violence has doubled. Police officials did not provide an explanation, but the shifting profiles of offenders could indicate that anti-refugee violence is becoming more widespread. About 75 percent of individuals charged with such attacks had previously not been sentenced for right-wing crimes.

Civil-rights groups in Germany have blamed anti-Islam demonstrations, such as the weekly marches by Pegida (a group using a German acronym that translates to Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West), for making intolerance more socially accepted. Police officials said Thursday that such movements had contributed to a "xenophobic mood" in many German cities and rural areas.

Last week, Lutz Bachmann, the co-founder of Pegida, went on trial for allegedly having "incited the people." Bachmann's trial has been closely watched by pro- and anti-refugee groups. His supporters have criticized the mainstream media and German officials for what they consider to be censorship and harassment.

Pegida demonstrators have branded leading conservative politicians "traitors of the people." But more worryingly to officials, the hateful rhetoric has also turned violent at times — with several journalists and political opponents being physically assaulted in recent months.

Police said such incidents might have been the first indications that worse was yet to come.

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