Germans Worry What's Behind Wave Of Arsons

Aug 19, 2011
Originally published on August 19, 2011 5:18 am
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DAVID GREENE, host:

Now to Germany, where luxury cars in Berlin have been set on fire and destroyed for the fourth night in a row. It's not clear whether this is typical summertime hooliganism or something else. But with memories of the unrest in London fresh, some citizens and politicians in Germany are worried, and police are urging tough action. NPR's Eric Westervelt reports.

ERIC WESTERVELT: Car arson in Berlin is an old problem, especially in the summertime. For years, far-left activists with a fondness for arson have targeted luxury cars to protest rising rents and other causes. But Berlin police official Thomas Neuendorf says these incidents do not fit that burn-a-Beemer-for-marks pattern.

Mr. THOMAS NEUENDORF (Police Spokesman): (Through translator) It looks ever more likely that we are dealing solely with pyromaniac hooligans who get a thrill out of vandalism. The scene has changed entirely. In 2009, we had numerous arson attacks with a clear political motivation. Normally, it was about gentrification and anti-militarism. This spate of arson has none of these characteristics.

WESTERVELT: So far this week, police say some 50 cars have been torched indiscriminately. The chief security expert for the opposition Social Democrats called the wave of arson, quote, a precursor to terrorism. Others have warned it's the start of street unrest like the recent riots and vandalism in London. But police spokesman Neuendorf dismisses that as nonsense.

Mr. NEUENDORF: (Through translator) We're talking about a lone arsonist or a small group of vandals setting fire to cars, one after the other. This is not in any way comparable to the riots in London, nor is it in any way a precursor to terrorism.

WESTERVELT: Police are offering a 5,000 euro, or $7,000, reward and are now using a helicopter with a thermal camera to try to catch the arsonists or lone arsonist.

Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Berlin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.