Political extremism rose sharply in Germany last year among the far right, far left and religious extremist groups, the domestic intelligence agency said on Tuesday.
"Extremist groups, whatever their orientation, are gaining ground in Germany," Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, citing a 2015 report, said. The security agency had, "observed not just a rise in membership but also an increase in violence and brutality," he said in a statement.
The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), said in an annual report that the number of violent offences committed by right-wing extremists rose by more than 40 percent last year; up from 990 attacks in 2014 to 1,408 in 2015.
Crimes included arson attacks on refugee centers and attempted murder.
The sharp rise in racist hate crimes came as Germany took in a record number of more than 1 million refugees and migrants asking for political asylum, and as extremist attacks in Paris and Brussels heightened terrorism fears in Europe. "The intensity of right-wing extremist militancy started in early 2015 and increased steadily – from threats against politicians and journalists to arson attacks on shelters for asylum seeker and attempted killings," the report indicates.
There were 75 arson attacks on refugee shelters in Germany, five times more than 2014. The report said that "[online] social networks play an important role in agitation and radicalization," as uninhibited hate speech dehumanizes minorities and fuels real-world violent crime.
The BfV said the recently dismantled far-right The Old School Society was an example of these structures – a small group formed on social media that later developed plans for terrorist attacks.
"Given the charged atmosphere and the anti-refugee sentiment, there is a continued risk that similar groups may form or that radicalized individuals may commit serious acts of violence," the report warned.
Far-left acts of violence – often targeting far-right activists or police – also rose sharply, to 1,608 violent offences from 995 the previous year, according to the report. The worst spate of attacks came during mass protests in March against the European Central Bank in Frankfurt, when rioters rampaged through streets and set ablaze police cars.
The service also pointed to the rising threat posed by religious extremists, estimating their number at about 10,000. The report said it assumed that some extremists and war criminals had entered the country with the massive refugee influx.
Other potential threats were posed by self-radicalized individuals, extremist fighters returning from Syria and Iraq, and possible sleeper cells from militant groups, it said.
By late last year, more than 780 people from Germany had travelled to join extremists in Syria and Iraq, although the number of departures was thought to have gradually declined.
Anti-immigration ideology and xenophobia have become more visible in the country as a result of the efforts of political parties such as the National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) and AfD as well as anti-Islam and anti-immigrant movements like Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West (PEGIDA), which have staged anti-immigrant rallies and have drawn thousands of people throughout Europe, especially in Germany.