A police union voiced shock Monday, a day after thousands of football supporters waged running battles against German police in the western city of Cologne during what was ostensibly a demonstration against Islamic radicalism.
It was the first outbreak of violence by the self-styled “Hooligans Against Salafists,” a new alliance in which far-right groups have recruited brawling sports fans to their anti-foreigner cause. Police detained 17 of the 4,000-strong crowd, but were unable to catch others who hurled stones, bottles and fireworks at officers.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government rejected suggestions that the new alliance on the right was a game-changer.
It was investigating the riot “with attention and concern, but not in fear and panic,” an Interior Ministry spokesman in Berlin said. A new trend was perceptible, but did not mean a “new type” of threat and security authorities would monitor this with “a sense of proportion.”
“If this grouping consolidates and grows further, then I would say we face a new type of violence,” warned Arnold Plickert, head of the North Rhine Westphalia state chapter of the GdP police union.
He said previous “hooligans” demonstrations had only attracted a few hundred radicals and had not been violent. Few had expected the alliance to scale up so fast.
The police union charged that police commanders had not expected a crowd of 4,000 and were unable to arrest many who committed offences. At least 44 police officers were injured in scuffles and by thrown items.
The demonstrators’ declared target was the Salafist movement within Sunni Islam, a fundamentalist faction perceived in Germany as associated with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
“The fight against Salafism is just an alibi,” said Plickert. “These are people who enjoy violence.”