Police carry a box outside of a residential building in Berlin, Germany. The raids followed a decision by state authorities to ban an organisation that ran a mosque. Photo / AP
German police arrested a 26-year-old man on suspicion of plotting an Islamist-inspired attack.
The man, identified only as “Sascha L.,” is accused of plotting to lure police officers and soldiers into a trap. When authorities searched his apartment in Northeim, Lower Saxony, they found chemicals and electronics that could be used to make explosives.
Such plots have not been infrequent in Germany over the past few years. However, when looking through Sascha’s history, authorities found another detail that made his case more unusual: Until 2013, the suspected Islamist extremist may have been a neo-Nazi.
According to reports in Der Spiegel, authorities have found a YouTube channel on which a man thought to be Sascha warns of the threat posed by Muslims, whom he accused of trying to impose Islamic law on the country, as well as left-wing activists and anti-fascists.
That video was uploaded to YouTube in May 2013, Der Spiegel reports. A year later, Sascha is thought to have converted to Islam.In the videos, according to Der Spiegel, Sascha sometimes wears a white mask, signifying a possible link to the Immortals, a prominent neo-Nazi organisation in Germany. One video, titled “Tips for the fight against cockroaches,” is said to have shown Sascha calling for attacks against immigrants in Germany.
According to Die Tageszeitung, Sascha’s Facebook page reflected this shift – he liked a regional Islamist extremist group’s page and changed his profile to include the slogan “Don’t push! I have a bomb in my backpack”. Sascha also faced a court case over spreading the prohibited symbols of the Islamic State militant group on the Internet.
As unusual as the Sascha case may sound, it isn’t without precedent. Extremists going from one extreme to the other is “not that uncommon,” says Seamus Hughes, deputy director of the Programme on Extremism at George Washington University.
“There are some overlaps in terms of groups both sides hate so [there is] an easier transition from one extreme to the other,” Hughes added.
There are at least two examples of US citizens who’ve made similar transitions, Hughes said. Emerson Begolly, who posted photographs of himself online that show him wearing a Nazi uniform and uploaded jihadist-inspired songs, was arrested in 2011. More recently, a Virginia man named Nicholas Young who was charged last year with attempting to support Isis (Islamic State) also admitted to dressing up as a Nazi and collecting Nazi memorabilia.
In Germany, too, there is a long history of extremists switching allegiances. Deutsche Welle reports that one of the most famous cases was that of Horst Mahler, a former leader of Germany’s radical left in the 1960s and 1970s who later turned towards neo-Nazism and is now serving a prison sentence for inciting hatred and denying the Holocaust.
Meanwhile, police today searched dozens of sites in Germany linked to a mosque that was frequented by the Berlin market attacker Anis Amri, after authorities banned the Islamic group that operated it.
Some 450 officers raided 24 locations in Berlin, the neighbouring state of Brandenburg, and Hamburg in northern Germany. In addition to the mosque itself they searched 15 apartments, two company offices and six prison cells. No arrests were made.
Senior security officials said authorities had been watching the mosque for some time because of concern that it had become a meeting point for Islamic extremists. A previous attempt to ban the organisation behind it, known as Fussilet 33, was aborted last year.