MUNICH (Reuters) - The head of Germany’s domestic spy agency must explain why he cast doubt on the authenticity of videos showing far-right gangs hounding migrants in an eastern city, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said on Monday.
BfV head Hans-Georg Maassen has faced calls to resign from across the mainstream political spectrum after he said he was not sure if footage circulated online showing skinheads chasing foreigners in Chemnitz was authentic.
Violent protests in the city last month by far-right groups over the fatal stabbing of a German man blamed on two migrants have widened deep social divisions that were exposed by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision in 2015 to welcome more than one million refugees from war zones in the Middle East.
Seehofer heads the Bavaria-based Christian Social Union (CSU) party, which is generally further right on many issues than its alliance partner, Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU).
He has been criticised for saying he would have joined in the Chemnitz protests, albeit not with far-right groups.
But on Monday he took a more conciliatory line.
“We are waiting to see what he has to report to us,” he told reporters when asked if Maassen could remain as BfV chief. “Everything else will be dealt with then.”
Social Democrat (SPD) leader Andrea Nahles, whose center-left party are junior partners in Merkel’s coalition government, said Maassen should explain why he contradicted the chancellor, who last week said innocent people were persecuted in Chemnitz.
“If he is unable to do that, then it is no longer viable that he remains in his post,” Nahles said.
Seehofer urged caution over the arrest of two Afghans following the death at the weekend of a German man in the eastern city of Koethen, where far-right and left-wing protesters held rival demonstrations.
“We need to do everything to overcome what is happening in our country: terrible anti-Semitic incidents, far-right radicalism but also crimes by migrants,” Seehofer said.
Anne-Marie Keding, justice minister of Saxony-Anhalt where Koethen lies, said an initial autopsy showed the 22-year-old man had died of a heart condition.
The BfV has presented its report on events in Chemnitz to Seehofer and Merkel.
Merkel rebuked the premier of Saxony, the state where Chemnitz is situated, after he said no mobs hunted down migrants in the city, where a Jewish restaurant was also attacked.
Seehofer noted the Saxony premier’s comments, and said police and the spy agency chief had reached the same conclusion.
“The second thing is the veracity of the videos. Mr Maassen has said he doubts the videos are real. He must have reasons to reach this conclusion,” the minister said.
Additional reporting by Thomas Escritt and Thomas Seythal in Berlin; Writing by Joseph Nasr; editing by John Stonestreet and Ed Osmond