BERLIN (Reuters) - German police have detained two suspects in the murder of a pro-immigration politician shot by a far-right sympathizer who has confessed to the crime, federal prosecutors said on Thursday.
They said one of the men, identified as Elmar J., had sold the gun Stephen E. used to shoot Walter Luebcke, who was found lying outside his home in the state of Hesse on June 2. German privacy laws prohibit publishing their family names.
The second suspect, Markus H., is believed to have been a middleman who introduced Stephen E. to the gun dealer, the Federal Prosecutors’ Office said in a statement.
The suspects were detained on Wednesday in Kassel, where Luebcke was murdered, and Hoexter, a town about 70 km (45 miles) to the north. Their apartments were searched, the prosecutors said, giving no details.
Luebcke’s killing has revived a debate about whether Germany is doing enough to combat far-right groups, after the chance discovery in 2011 of a neo-Nazi cell, the National Socialist Underground (NSU), whose members murdered eight Turks, a Greek man and a German policewoman from 2000 to 2007.
Prosecutors said the two suspects were aware that Stephan E. was a far-right sympathizer and that he would possibly use the .38-caliber gun to commit a political murder. The prosecutors’ office added, however, that they were probably unaware of his specific plot to murder Luebcke.
The BfV, Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, said in its annual report published on Thursday that the number of “violence-orientated right-wing extremists” had risen to a record of 12,700.
“Given the high affinity for carrying weapons in the far-right extremist spectrum, those numbers are extremely worrying,” Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said, presenting the report. “The risk of an attack is high.”
Seehofer had said on Wednesday that the investigation of Luebcke’s murder would continue even though Stephan E. confessed to the crime and told investigators he had acted alone.
Seehofer also said security services would get more staff and resources to monitor far-right groups, especially on the Internet.
Investigators said Stephan E.’s DNA matched forensic samples collected on the terrace where Luebcke, who headed the regional government in the city of Kassel, was found dead.
Luebcke was a hate figure on far-right Internet forums critical of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s 2015 decision to welcome around a million refugees at the height of the refugee crisis.
The 2011 discovery of the NSU unleashed fierce criticism of the intelligence agencies and police for underestimating the risk of far-right violence. Reforms were then introduced, such as closer coordination between agencies and regions.
Merkel’s Christian Democrats, of which Luebcke was a member, have said the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) must share blame for the Luebcke murder by having legitimized a language of hate that encourages political violence.
The AfD has rejected suggestions that its anti-immigration stance was to blame for Luebcke’s death and said its own members were the victims of left-wing violence.
On Wednesday, a regional AfD lawmaker in the Bavarian parliament was condemned after he remained seated as the chamber stood for a minute’s silence to remember Luebcke.
Additional reporting by Holger Hansen Writing by Joseph Nasr; Editing by Mark Heinrich