Police in Germany have arrested 15 members of a far-right group for abusing foreigners in the eastern city of Chemnitz.
The detained individuals — members of a group of self-proclaimed vigilantes — were accused by German prosecutors on Saturday of disturbing peace and causing bodily harm to other individuals.
The detentions were based on events that had occurred a day earlier following a large far-right rally in Chemnitz, where as many as 3,500 people gathered under the city’s iconic monument of Karl Marx and marched through the town center.
After the anti-immigration rally concluded on Friday evening, officials said the vigilantes set out to harass foreigners in one of the city’s parks, stopping anyone who did not look like Germans and demanding their identity cards.
Iranian injured in the head
During one encounter, the members of the far-right party approached a group of people, among them German, Iranian, and Pakistani nationals, and verbally abused them with xenophobic comments.
Later, a brawl broke out and the vigilantes injured a 26-year-old Iranian man, who suffered a laceration to the head.
Chemnitz has seen mass anti- and pro-immigration rallies in recent weeks, with thousands of people — including far-right radicals — taking to the streets.
The far-right rallies were sparked by the murder of a German citizen on August 26, allegedly at the hands of two refugees from Iraq and Syria, who have since been taken into custody.
Germany has been one of the European Union states that have accepted large numbers of refugees since the continent’s migration crisis erupted in 2015.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has previously criticized far-right parties for staging violent protest rallies over incidents blamed on refugees.
But she has herself been criticized for her early advocacy of an “open-door” policy toward refugees coming to Europe from conflict zones in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. While she has defended that policy in rhetoric, she has modified her stance in practice, agreeing to curbs on the number of arrivals in Germany.
Head of intelligence agency in hot water over Chemnitz
Meanwhile, the German Bild am Sonntag newspaper in a report accused the country’s BfV domestic intelligence agency of failing to act for months on concerns voiced by officials in two German states regarding local youth chapters of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.
The report could strengthen calls for the ouster of BfV president Hans-Georg Maassen, whose critics say he has downplayed anti-immigration violence in Chemnitz and have questioned his relationship with far-right politicians.
Maassen came under fire on September 7 after saying he was not convinced far-right extremists had attacked migrants in the eastern German city and questioned the authenticity of a video said to show the violence before his agency finished its assessment. He has since said his comments were misunderstood.