DUESSELDORF, Germany (Reuters) - Nearly 1,000 police officers raided clubhouses and apartments of known neo-Nazis in western Germany on Thursday after a ban was placed on three violent far-right groups in the country's most populous state.
Ralf Jaeger, interior minister of North-Rhine Westphalia, announced the ban as part of an intensified crackdown on neo-Nazis in the industrial state. Police searched 146 premises, confiscating weapons, computer hard drives and election posters of the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD).
"(The objects seized) expose the tight bonds within the far-right scene," Jaeger said, referring to the relationship between the NPD and groups of violent militants known as "Kameradschaften".
Jaeger called the groups affected by the ban "xenophobic, racist and anti-Semitic", adding: "They employ fists and knives against their political opponents."
Although no arrests were made, Jaeger said the seizures could bolster attempts to ban the NPD, which Germany's national intelligence agency says is racist, anti-Semitic, revisionist and inspired by Adolf Hitler's Nazi ideology.
Groups with explicit neo-Nazi ideology are prohibited in Germany, but the NPD has so far been able to skirt politicians' and security officials' attempts to ban it. One such attempt against the NPD failed in 2003 after witnesses in the case were exposed as intelligence agency informants.
"We will continue to crack down on these enemies of the state and tread on their black leather boots," Jaeger said, referring to the footwear popular among skinheads.
The NPD has representatives in two state assemblies - Saxony and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern - but not in the federal parliament. It blames immigrants for crime and unemployment and its voters are mostly unemployed young men with little education.
(Reporting By Anneli Palmen, Matthias Inverardi; Writing By Chris Cottrell; Editing by Mark Heinrich)