Merkel, German intel chief clash on ‘foreigner hunt’ reports

Berlin: The head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency on Friday raised doubts about reports of a “hunt on foreigners” by neo-Nazi mobs in a flashpoint city last month, directly contradicting Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Weighing in on an issue that has reignited the immigration debate in the country, agency chief Hans-Georg Maassen told the daily Bild that he had “no proof that the video circulating on the Internet” showing foreign-looking people being accosted and chased “is authentic”.
“I share the scepticism about media reports of right-wing extremist foreigner hunts in Chemnitz,” the eastern city that has seen several far-right rallies since the killing of a German man, allegedly by asylum seekers, in late August.
“Based on my cautious assessment, there are good reasons to believe that this was intentional false information, possibly to detract attention from the murder in Chemnitz,” Maassen said.
He offered no evidence for his theory. Until now, only far-right supporters had claimed on social media that the video in question was a fake.
Extremist groups and thousands of local citizens took to the streets in the days after the fatal stabbing, with a number of participants shouting anti-foreigner slurs and flashing the illegal Nazi salute. In a spasm of violence that shocked the country, marauding mobs also assaulted reporters and police.
The day after the first Chemnitz demonstration on August 26, Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert quickly condemned the scenes, including speaking of protesters “hunting down” foreigners.
Merkel herself has repeatedly used the phrase in the ensuing heated debate, adding that “hate in the streets” has no place in Germany.
However, this week the premier of Saxony, Michael Kretschmer, pushed back against the accounts of events in his state, telling the regional assembly there had been “no mob, no hunting of foreigners and no pogroms”.
Seibert declined to comment directly on the controversy on Friday, stating only that “we have said everything there is to be said” and that the BfV chief has an “important job with many responsibilities”.
But Maassen’s comments drew fire from the government parties and the opposition, with the Greens calling them “frankly absurd” and a “frontal attack” against Merkel.
Police said that several people have come forward saying they were assaulted, including a Syrian, a Bulgarian and an Afghan.
A freelance journalist working for respected weekly Die Zeit posted videos on Twitter and several tweets describing demonstrators aggressively running after foreign-looking people and hurling xenophobic insults.
A video by an anonymous user showing such scenes was widely picked up by other media outlets and human rights groups.
An analysis of the video commissioned by ARD public television concluded on Friday that based on weather conditions, geographic data and corroborating reports by journalists and other witnesses, it was most likely authentic.
It also cited similar videos posted on far-right pages on Facebook.
Later on Friday, the anti-immigrant group “Pro Chemnitz” was to
hold another rally in Chemnitz, followed by a concert with counter-protesters called “Stronger Together” urging support for “openness and diversity”. — AFP