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Right-Wing Extremism

Neo-Nazis built up German prison network

A network of neo-Nazis has been discovered operating in German prisons. They maintained contact with the far right terror group, NSU, whose alleged last member goes on trial next week.

The public has been shocked by the latest revelations from the world of German neo-Nazis. Authorities have found out that right-wing extremists in prison have been communicating with like-minded inmates under the guise of being involved with an organization that supports imprisoned right-wing extremists.

Even worse is the allegation that several of them also maintained contacts with the far-right terror group, the National Socialist Underground (NSU), which is alleged to have killed 10 people - mostly migrants - over a period of seven years.

Bernd Wagner, a former police detective who is now an expert on the far right based in Berlin, considers this perfectly possible: "You have to realize that the NSU was just the tip of the iceberg," he told Deutsche Welle. "You have to realize that there are several overlapping, linked-up networks. It's a whole system of networks and relationships."

The center of the aid organization was evidently Hünfeld prison in the German state of Hesse, the state's Justice Minister Jörg-Uwe Hahn admitted, telling regional television that the organization's initial activities could be traced back to Hünfeld.

New, secret far-right

A skinhead sitting in court
Photo: Armin Weigel dpa/lby

The network acted under the cover of an aid association for convicted right-wingers

Eighteen months ago, the federal Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich banned the far-right "Aid organization for national political prisoners and their families" (HNG). He said the HNG, which had several hundred members and supported convicted neo-Nazis in prison and upon their release, rejected democracy and the rule of law, and upheld National Socialism.

According to Hahn, after the ban, imprisoned right-wing extremists tried to set up a new network: "We have found material which leads us to believe that relationships were being built up using the structure of an association - not just across the state of Hesse, but nationally."

Wagner thinks the investigators in Hesse did a good job: "We should praise them for being the first to draw attention to this issue following the HNG ban," he says. "They deserve a medal for good observation."

Well-known problem

Beate Zschäpe
Photo Courtesy of the German Federal Criminal Police Office via Getty Images

The network is said to have had contact with Beate Zschäpe, an alleged member of the NSU terror cell

The investigators found out about the network after they collected and analyzed letters and other private documents in several Hessian prisons over a period of weeks. They worked out that the members of the network were communicating via secret messages in letters and small ads in ordinary magazines. According to German newspapers, they used innocent-sounding words and symbols.

Wagner is not surprised at the findings: "The members of the far right who are in prison have always been organized; there are scarcely any prisons without right-wing radicals. This has been observed since the 1960s."

Training for prison wardens

The neo-Nazi prisoners who are alleged to have been involved in the network have now been transferred from Hünfeld to a variety of other prisons, and checks on far-right prisoners have been stepped up.

A man with the word Skinhead tattooed on the back of his head
Photo: Matthias Hiekel dpa/lsn

Tattoos can reveal neo-Nazi involvement

In addition, prison wards are being trained to recognize neo-Nazi tattoos. Hahn says the neo-Nazis often give themselves away with their tattoos, but he admits that the guards had until now not paid enough attention to them.

The trial of the last alleged member of the NSU, Beate Zschäpe, and four alleged backers of the group, begins on April 17 in Munich. By then, more information might emerge about the networks involved in the neo-Nazi prisoners' aid association.

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