Officials in the German state of Hesse disbanded a commando unit belonging to the Frankfurt Police on Thursday, following an investigation which found that its members had had glorified violence and made references to a former Nazi organization in online chats.
“The unacceptable misconduct of several employees as well as the turning away of immediate superiors in the SEK Frankfurt made its complete dissolution necessary,” Hesse Interior Minister Peter Beuth said in a statement promising a “restructuring of the Special Operations Command.”
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On Wednesday, German prosecutors dismissed 19 policemen and suspended another over the chats, which came to light in the course of a separate investigation of an officer in the commando unit who was suspected of sharing child pornography.
“During an evaluation of the suspect’s mobile phones, several chat groups where criminal content was shared by members were identified,” Frankfurt Senior Public Prosecutor Nadja Niesen said in a statement.
German police, military and security agencies have faced accusations of not doing enough to unearth potentially violent nationalists in their ranks.
This is a sensitive issue in a country where awareness of the Nazis’ World War II atrocities, including the murder of millions of Jews in the Holocaust, remains strong, but where anti-Semitic crimes by far-right supporters have been rising.
Germany’s domestic intelligence agency said in a report last year that less than 1 percent of the German police force, security agencies and military personnel espouse far-right world views and sympathies. The report was part of a wider inquiry into far-right extremism in the civil service.
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Last January, German newspaper Welt Am Sonntag revealed that over 500 German Bundeswehr soldiers were being investigated for having ties to the far-right. Among these cases, 360 - a vast majority - were discovered in 2019. Not long after, the German daily Die Welt reported that over 100 guns had disappeared from various security agency branches over the past decade. Among the lost weapons, 58 went missing from the Bundeswehr.
“The special task forces are specially trained specialists,” Hesse’s Interior Ministry stated on Thursday.
“They move in when it gets dangerous. Then they have to keep a cool head. We place special professional requirements on these special units. But we also expect them to have special moral standards and a firm foundation of values. Those who do not meet all these requirements have no place in these units.”
The number of politically motivated crimes rose sharply in Germany last year, including a 15 percent increase in antisemitic offenses. The number of antisemitic crimes reported to police across the country jumped from 2,032 in 2019 to 2,351 last year.
During Israel’s military operation in Gaza last month, German Jews called on Berlin to increase security for synagogues and other communal institutions in response to the burning of Israeli flags in front of two synagogues.
JTA contributed to this report.