BERLIN (Reuters) - Some members of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party in Bavaria who are under surveillance for alleged links to extremist groups won seats in its parliamentary election at the weekend, the state’s intelligence agency said.
An agency spokesman said on Thursday that the Bavarian domestic intelligence agency was checking whether it has a constitutional mandate to continue monitoring those individuals, who are now lawmakers in the state assembly.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition is divided over whether the federal intelligence agency should monitor the AfD, which entered the national parliament for the first time in an election last year after campaigning on an anti-Islam platform.
In Bavaria, the party - which says Islam is incompatible with the German constitution - secured 22 seats in the regional parliament based on a little over 10 percent of the vote. It drew some traditional voters from Merkel’s conservative allies in the state, the Christian Social Union (CSU).
“Among the people under surveillance by the Bavarian domestic intelligence agency are individuals who won a mandate for the AfD in the election on Oct. 14,” the Bavarian intelligence service spokesman wrote in an email.
He declined to say how many of the 22 AfD lawmakers are under surveillance. The AfD’s leader in Bavaria did not respond to an email seeking comment. The story was first reported by the Muenchner Merkur newspaper.
The intelligence agency spokesman said a low double-digit number of AfD members were being monitored for suspected links to anti-Islamic and “right-wing extremist” groups as well as to the anti-government Reichsbuerger movement, which claims that the modern-day Federal Republic of Germany is illegitimate.
Pressure grew on Merkel’s government to order federal agents to start monitoring the AfD after its supporters held protests in the eastern city of Chemnitz last month to denounce the fatal stabbing of a German man, allegedly by two migrants.
Skinheads clashed with police soon after a Syrian and an Iraqi were identified as suspects, and a mob attacked a Jewish restaurant, exposing bitter divisions over Merkel’s 2015 decision to welcome some one million, mainly Muslim migrants.
Soon after the protests in Chemnitz, the states of Lower Saxony and Bremen said their security services had placed the AfD’s youth wings under surveillance for suspected unconstitutional activities.
But Merkel rejected calls to put the AfD, now Germany’s largest opposition party, under surveillance, saying it was the job of intelligence officials, not politicians, to make such decisions based on facts.
However, leaders of the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), junior coalition partners of Merkel’s conservatives, said the clashes in Chemnitz gave clear cause for a renewed look at whether the AfD should be monitored.
Memories of Nazi and Communist oppression between 1933 and 1989 have made Germans very cautious about state surveillance, but a poll published last month found that 57 percent agreed that the AfD should be monitored.
Editing by Mark Heinrich