Merkel pays tribute to victims of German neo-Nazi group
BERLIN (AP) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel paid tribute Monday to 10 people who were killed by a neo-Nazi group over a decade ago, amid concerns that violent far-right extremism is on the rise again in Germany.
During a visit to the eastern German city of Zwickau, Merkel took part in a ceremony dedicating 10 newly planted trees to the memory of those killed by the National Socialist Underground group from 2000-2007.
Last month, a young oak tree commemorating the group's first victim, flower seller Enver Simsek, was sawed down at the same site. Simsek, like most of the NSU's victims , was of Turkish origin. "We will do everything ... so that such things don't happen again," Merkel said of the NSU killings, which German authorities had for years attributed to feuds among migrant gangs until the apparent murder-suicide of two of the NSU's core members in Nov. 2011 exposed the group's existence.
The NSU's only known surviving member was sentenced to life imprisonment last year. As Merkel spoke beside the memorial, a handful of far-right protesters nearby chanted for her to leave. Anti-migrant and anti-Semitic sentiment has come to the fore again in Germany in recent years, accompanied by the rise of the far-right Alternative for Germany party, whose members have downplayed the country's Nazi past, and the discovery of several extremist groups allegedly bent on carrying out NSU-style attacks.
In June, a regional politician from Merkel's party was shot dead at his home. A far-right extremist with a string of convictions for violent anti-migrant crimes was arrested over the killing . Last month, a 27-year-old German man attempted to attack a synagogue in the eastern city of Halle. After failing to breach the doors he killed two passers-by, before being arrested. Ahead of the attack, the suspect had posted an anti-Semitic screed online .
German officials have vowed to crack down on far-right extremism, including by tightening gun laws and stepping up prosecution of online hate. A spokesman for the Interior Ministry said Monday that authorities are closely monitoring threats such as those issued by the self-styled Atomwaffen Division, which recently sent emails saying it planned to kill German left-wing lawmakers.
The neo-Nazi group, whose name means "atomic weapons division" in German, was founded in the United States but has since attracted sympathizers elsewhere, including in Germany.