Tension in Germany

Three nights of arson attacks on cars in Berlin have left Germans worrying that their capital may be on the brink of its own form of copy-cat violence that ignited London and quickly spilled over into other UK cities this month.

While Angela Merkel, the chancellor, said she “hoped” and was “somewhat confident” that Germany would be “spared events like we have recently seen in London and other cities”, other politicians worried the lure of media attention could dash such expectations.

“There are people [involved] who want to get in the newspaper,” Eberhard Körting, interior minister for the state of Berlin, said of this week’s attacks, which have destroyed or badly damaged almost 50 cars since Monday night.

The German capital has seen sporadic attacks on luxury cars in the once poor and now gentrifying district of Kreuzberg for the past four years. But recent ones centred on stolid and middle-class Charlottenburg – and on car brands other than BMW and Mercedes.

There have been 135 arson attacks on parked cars so far this year, up from 54 for the whole of last year, according to Berlin police.

According to Mr Körting, in an interview in Thursday’s Berliner Zeitung, investigators think half of the recent attacks are down to “copy-cat perpetrators and even some insurance fraudsters” – not simply the leftist arsonists who have been fighting a fitful and localised war against the rich for years.

“The images of burning buildings and cars in London were obviously a motivation for the recent increase of attacks in Berlin,” Christian Pfeiffer, of the Criminology Research Institute of Lower-Saxony, told the Financial Times.

18/08/2011Berlin cars targeted by arsonist for third night running

Arsonists torched cars in Berlin for the third night running as part of a wave of attacks that police suggested Thursday were more likely due to vandals rather than politically-motivated activists.

Nine cars, including two BMWs and an Audi, were set on fire overnight in the upscale district of Charlottenburg, in the west of the city, police said Thursday.

This followed similar attacks on the two previous nights which resulted in 26 cars going up in flames and police offering a 5,000-euro ($7,200) reward for information leading to the arrest of the arsonists.

The total number of cars torched this year stands at 147, 63 of them this month alone.

“We don’t rightly know the reason for it,” said police chief inspector Guido Busch.

“But we believe it is mostly the work of a single person, or a single group of people, and that it is vandalism with no political motive,” he added.

Ehrhart Koerting, the Berlin city government official in charge of police matters, told the Berliner Zeitung newspaper that, overall, half the cases of arson attacks on cars in the city are believed to be carried out by left-wing extremists, while the rest are copy-cat attacks and insurance scams.

But “there are clues suggesting the latest attacks are not politically-motivated,” he added.

Many but not all of the cars torched have been luxury vehicles.

Left-wingers, in the past, have set fire to expensive cars in parts of the capital which are in the throes of gentrification, but such attacks tend to take place around May 1 when protest groups traditionally gather for demonstrations.

And in many cases extreme-left splinter groups claim responsibility for these attacks, something which has not happened this time around.

Many of the most recent attacks have been carried out with barbecue starter-packs placed under cars, next to a tyre.

Some 100 policemen are out every night, along with a helicopter equipped with a thermal vision camera, to track down the culprits, Busch said.

And Berlin’s problem on Wednesday night appeared to have spread to the surrounding state of Brandenburg, where two vehicles were set on fire in the county of Teltow-Fläming. Police said a car and a van had been parked two kilometres apart.

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