As Germany prepares to mark 70 years since the end of World War II and the defeat of the Nazi regime, the country can look back on decades of stable liberal democracy, a staggering achievement in the light of its history.
Nevertheless, small pockets of right-wing extremism persist, with neo-Nazi groups espousing hatred of Jews, foreigners, Muslims and democracy itself.
On Wednesday police arrested four members of a far-right radical group suspected of preparing to carry out attacks on refugees and Muslims in a series of raids across Germany.
It is a clear indication that right-wing terror still exists. In 2011 authorities discovered that that a far-right terror cell, the National Socialist Union, or NSU, had killed 10 people over a period of several years.
This week, three men and a woman were arrested, accused of forming a new terrorist group called the “Old School Society.”
Prosecutors said they had acquired explosives and were planning attacks on mosques, asylum centers and Salafists, the group of adherents to an extremely conservative form of Sunni Islam. The OSS was said to be trying to get its hands on more explosives and heavy weaponry.
While the populist far right Pegida movement has been the focus of much attention in recent months Wednesday’s arrests show that far more extreme right-wing movements also exist
Up to 250 investigators took part in raids of nine homes in a number of states in both eastern and western Germany, with the GSG 9 commando-style police arresting the main suspects, three of whom are based in the eastern state of Saxony.
While the populist far right Pegida movement, which is also based in Saxony, has been the focus of much attention in recent months Wednesday’s arrests show that far more extreme right-wing movements also exist.
The anti-Islam Pegida movement, based in the eastern city of Dresden, mobilized thousands of ordinary people worried, in particular, about the fact that Germany is taking in record numbers of asylum seekers and immigrants.
Germany has seen a spike in the number of asylum seekers, with the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees on Tuesday saying that this year it expected to see 400,000, based on the figures for the first three months of 2015.
“This has little to do with Pegida, and also little to do with the refugees,” argued Kai Arzheimer, an expert on the far right at the University of Mainz. “What we see here is the attempt to organize far-right terrorism.”
The Old School Society is part of a subculture, a network of neo-Nazi groups who have “very extreme views, and who are simply not happy with democracy,” he told Handelsblatt Global Edition.
Those networks coalesce around extremist rock and punk bands, and communicate via chatrooms and social networks. The Old School Society had its own Facebook page, where it spouted anti-foreigner diatribes and openly recruited members.
"They are just a small section of a bigger far-right scene in Germany and there are certainly other groups where there are similar dangers," said Robert Lüdecke of the Berlin-based Amadeu Antonio Foundation, which combats far-right extremism.
"Most of those who are really radical, don’t do it so openly and they are the really dangerous ones," he told Handelsblatt Global Edition.
While the domestic intelligence agencies have kept an eye on these kinds of groups for years, the general assumption had been that they were extremists, but ones who posed little real danger. “The danger was for years underestimated in Germany,” said Mr. Arzheimer.
That changed with the discovery in 2011 that the extremist National Socialist Union had killed nine immigrants and a policewoman between 2000 and 2007.
The NSU was only uncovered when two of its members killed themselves after a botched bank robbery.
The surviving member, Beate Zschäpe, is currently on trial in Munich for her alleged involvement in the murders.
The case laid bare the lack of cooperation between the myriad of various intelligence and police agencies in different federal states. It also showed that the authorities had fatally miscalculated by assuming that the murders were being carried out by Turkish criminal gangs, which lead them to overlook a racist motive.
While the roots of the NSU went back to the 1990s, violence carried out by extremist far right groups goes back even further, such as the attack on the Oktoberfest in Munich in 1980 which saw 13 people killed.
The arrests on Wednesday were a small triumph for intelligence services, who learned from the NSU debacle, and set up a center to coordinate information.
"We are very glad that it hopefully has been nipped in the bud - everything else will be shown by the investigation," Interior Minister, Thomas de Maiziere said on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, there has been a general increase in the number of far-right violent crimes as well as arson attacks on asylum centers.
Mr. Lüdecke of the Amadeu Antonio Foundation argues the real danger lies here, rather than in small terror groups.
In April there was an arson attack on a planned hostel for refugees in the Tröglitz, in the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt and on Tuesday night a fire caused damage at hostel being built for asylum seekers in Limburgerhof in the western state of Rhineland-Palatinate.
On Wednesday authorities said there had been a sharp rise in the number of attacks on refugee shelters, with 150 incidents of arson or graffiti with swastikas or other Nazi symbols reported in 2014.
The statistics showed an increase of 22.9 percent in violent crimes by right-wing extremists in 2014 to 1,029 from the year before.
Video: The Truth Lies in Rostock, a documentary trailer.
The mounting anti-refugee climate recalls the worst attacks in post-war Germany on foreigners, when mobs attacked an asylum home in the eastern city of Rostock in 1992.
According to Mr. Lüdecke, the increase in anti-refugee sentiment in Germany has helped to fuel this recent violence. He says those helping refugees are also frequently intimidated, followed home and photographed.
"Since this anti-refugee mood has risen, the number of attacks have risen," he said. The far right feel justified by the concerns about immigration. "They try to say that the Germans want this dealt with and we are doing it."
Siobhan Dowling is an editor for Handelsblatt Global Edition. To contact the author: [email protected]