May 04, 2021
The suspect is accused of sending menacing letters to well-known progressives, including a lawyer, a politician and a comedian.
Information from a threat was traced back to a police terminal in Frankfurt, Germany. Ronald Wittek/EPA, via Shutterstock
By Christopher F. Schuetze | The New York Times
BERLIN – The police in Germany have arrested a 53-year-old man with a history of support for the far right in connection with a series of death threats sent to well-known progressives, including a lawyer, a politician and a comedian, the authorities said on Tuesday.
The threats usually included information not publicly known, such as the names of the targets’ children or their home addresses, initially leading investigators to suspect that police officers were involved and adding to concerns about the increasing influence of far-right extremists within the ranks of law enforcement. But the authorities say the suspect has never worked as a police officer and has no known links to the police.
With the arrest, authorities say they’ve caught the man responsible for the death threats signed with “NSU 2.0,” a reference to a far-right terrorist group that killed 10 people, planted bombs and committed robberies for more than a decade, starting in 1999. Earlier this year, the authorities in the western state of Hesse, who were investigating the cases, counted 115 threatening messages they believed to be from the same source.
The arrest in Berlin was heralded by Peter Beuth, Hesse state’s interior minister, who had come under fire after investigations into the leaked personal data revealed far-right chat groups included police officers who would have had access to victims’ personal details.
“If the urgent suspicion against the 53-year-old Berlin man is confirmed, this will be a very outstanding investigative success of the Hessian law enforcement authorities,” he told reporters at a hastily called news conference in Wiesbaden, the state’s capital, during which he said that the suspect did not have any known connections to the police.
“It is also a signal to all those whose trust in the security authorities has dwindled,” he said.
But those who received the threats had another view.
“I don’t understand why they are already calling the arrest a success, when there are so many unanswered questions,” said Idil Baydar, a Turkish-German comedian who received threats that included personal nonpublic data some years ago.
Among those unresolved questions is how the person who sent the threats came by private information. After a German lawyer of Turkish descent who represented the victims of the N.S.U. terrorist group received a threatening fax that included her home address in August 2018, an investigation showed that a police terminal in Frankfurt was used to access her personal information. In the past decade, several states, including Hesse, have investigated police officers over far-right links. In other states, police officers have been found to be part of racist or far-right chat groups.
Several German news outlets reported that the suspect arrested had obtained at least some of the personal information by contacting public registries and demanding access while impersonating a police officer, but the authorities have not confirmed this.
While Ms. Baydar, the comedian, thinks the man who was arrested may have something to do with the case, she’s not convinced that he acted alone.
“To dismiss this as the act of a sole perpetrator, that shocks me,” said Ms. Baydar in a telephone interview.
Hajo Funke, an expert in far right extremism, said Mr. Beuth’s comments were premature.
“The fact that Hesse’s Interior Minister Beuth sees himself and his police exonerated is not backed up by the information that has become available so far,” he said.
He added, “After all, there are more than 30 police officers in Hesse who had been investigated, and right-wing extremist chats of a whole number of police officers in Hesse have been proven.”
The suspect, who has not been publicly identified in keeping with German privacy laws, has a criminal record that includes unspecified right-wing crimes, according to the authorities. He was detained late Monday in Berlin at the request of the authorities in Hesse as part of an investigation into the threats that began in 2019.
The campaign of threats also inspired copycats. Last summer, a former police officer in Bavaria and his wife were arrested on charges of sending similar threatening letters.
“I have to say, personally, I don’t feel like the threat is over,” said Ms. Baydar, the comedian.