'I'm Not Frightened': Pro-Refugee German Politician Speaks Out After Car Explodes

A local left-wing politician known for supporting the housing of refugees in the German town of Freital, has spoken out about the harassment and death threats by right-wing extremists he has experienced, after his car exploded outside his house on Monday morning in what Germany's Die Linke party (Left party) believes was a politically motivated attack.

The car belonged to Michael Richter, head of the party's faction on the town council of Freital, a town on the outskirts of Dresden in Saxony. While it is not clear what caused the blast, which did not injure anyone, police say it was the result of someone purposely "introducing an explosive agent" into the vehicle, according to German newspaper Deutsche Welle. An investigation is underway.

Richter, 39, told the news site MoPo24 how he was awoken by a loud bang in the early hours of Monday morning, and looked out of his window to see black smoke rising from his car. The explosion was so powerful it damaged nearby cars on the street.

"It is an obvious assumption that right-wing extremists were behind the attack on my car since I have received many hateful threats before," Richter told Newsweek. "However, this attack has taken those threats and the hatred to a whole new level."

"I am not taking these threats lightly since they do not only affect my person but those surrounding me as well," he continues. "It is a serious situation but I am not frightened or intimidated."

Richter says that in the past he has been called a "betrayer of the nation," and says that people have offered to "put him up against the wall" and even burn him alive, expressing their threats either anonymously or under their full name on the internet, in person on the street or by sending letters.

Freital has long been associated with right-wing extremism against refugees. Nearby Dresden, the birthplace of the right-wing movement Pegida, saw tens of thousands rally against the "Islamisation of Europe" in January.

In June, Freital city authorities announced that 280 refugees would be housed in a former hotel already housing around 100 refugees, sparking fierce protests. The founder of the right-wing movement Pegida, Lutz Bachmann, who lives in Freital, urged protesters to mobilise against refugee centres there.

Right-wing protesters besieged the hotel, leaving refugees inside reportedly too terrified to attempt to venture out. Earlier this month, Markus Ulbig, the region's conservative Interior Minister, was shouted down by angry locals opposed to housing more refugees in their town at a meeting held by regional authorities to deal with the issue.

Richter says that right-wing terrorism is on the rise in general in Germany and that aggression towards Die Linke "has risen recently and to a level of intensity last reached in the 1990s." He describes the atmosphere in Freital as "very aggressive" and says that racists are becoming more open.

There has been an increase in attacks on buildings intended to house refugees across Germany in general this year. Germany's Federal Criminal Police Office of Germany, the Bundeskriminalamt, told Newsweek last week that there were 71 attacks on buildings housing refugees in the first three months of this year alone. That compares to 150 for the whole of 2014, 58 for 2013, and 24 for 2013.

Earlier this month, a report published by Germany's Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, an agency of the Federal Ministry of the Interior, revealed that the number of attacks by right-wing extremists soared to 990 in 2014, marking a 23.6 percent increase from 2013. The number of xenophobic attacks, which the report tallied at 512, reached its highest number ever.

According to the Deutsche Welle newspaper, the German interior minister, Thomas de Maizière, said the 170 criminal acts directed at refugee shelters in 2014, three times the number as in the previous year, were "beyond shocking."

The German government expects the number of people seeking asylum to more than double this year to 450,000—a record number for the country. Many are fleeing the war in Syria which has driven more than 4 million Syrians out of the country.

Despite the threats and violence, Richter is firmly resolved to continue to defend and support the rights of refugees in Germany. "It is my firmest belief that refugees fleeing from areas of war and conflict should find a secure living and shelter here in Germany," he says. "Many people from Freital do not provide the warm welcome that these people need and I cannot stand back to watch this happen to traumatised refugees."