BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany’s domestic spy chief expressed scepticism on Friday that migrants had been hounded in Chemnitz after the fatal stabbing of a German man, undermining Chancellor Angela Merkel who has said images from the eastern city “very clearly” showed hate.
Germany has been deeply shaken by the most violent right-wing protests in decades after the Aug. 26 killing of the German man in Chemnitz, in the state of Saxony, for which two immigrants were arrested.
Friday’s comments by Hans-Georg Maassen, head of the BfV domestic intelligence agency, aggravated tensions about whether politicians and the authorities are being too complacent in the face of rising xenophobia in Germany, where many had thought the lessons of Nazi history had long been learned.
Michael Kretschmer, Saxony’s conservative state premier, said on Wednesday migrants had not been hounded, but Merkel rebuffed his remark, saying pictures had shown “hate and ... the persecution of innocent people”.
Maassen told Bild newspaper: “I share the scepticism about media reports on right-wing extremists hunting down people in Chemnitz,” adding that a video circulating showing that happening could have been faked.
As officials and politicians traded barbs, hundreds of far-right protesters and counter-protesters gathered in Chemnitz for another evening of the demonstrations that have taken place almost nightly in the city.
Senior Social Democrat Thomas Oppermann accusing Maassen of “sewing confusion” about events in Chemnitz, known as Karl-Marx-Stadt when it was part of former Communist East Germany.
Katrin Goering-Eckardt, leader of the opposition Greens in parliament, said Maassen’s decision to focus on the video rather than on some protesters performing the illegal Hitler salute in Chemnitz showed he was no longer fit for his job.
“Two crucial posts for the security of the free, democratic basis of our country are, with him (Maassen) and his supervisor (Interior Minister) Horst Seehofer, clearly in the wrong hands,” Goering-Eckardt added in a statement.
But Seehofer told a news conference he had no reason to doubt Maassen’s assessment, adding it was important that security authorities knew politicians backed their work.
Rolland Woeller, Saxony’s interior minister also supported Maassen, telling broadcaster MDR: “The chief public prosecutor in Saxony also has no knowledge of witch hunts.”
On Thursday, Merkel appeared at odds with Seehofer, who said: “Migration is the mother of all problems.” She later responded, saying: “I say it differently. Migration presents us with challenges and here we have problems but also successes.”
Merkel’s spokesman, asked about her trust in Maassen, responded: “Mr Maassen has an important and responsible role.”
Merkel, who has said images from Chemnitz “very clearly” showed hate, on Thursday accused the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party of using violent protests over the stabbing to stir up ethnic tension.
Adding to concerns about the influence of the far-right in parts of the former East Germany, newspaper Die Welt reported on Friday that authorities were investigating reports of an attack in late August on a Jewish restaurant in Chemnitz by around a dozen neo-Nazis shouting “Jewish pigs” and throwing stones.
“If the reports are true, then we are dealing with a new quality of anti-Semitic crimes,” the paper quoted the government’s anti-Semitism rapporteur Felix Klein as saying.
Additional reporting by Thomas Seythal and Thomas Escritt; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Andrew Heavens