A police car stands in front of the theatre while police forces examine the crime scene at the back-side, where far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party member Frank Magnitz was attacked by unknown assailants, in Bremen, Germany January 8, 2019. Image Credit: Reuters

BERLIN: A local leader of the far-right Alternative for Germany was attacked and seriously wounded by several men in the northwestern city of Bremen, an assault that drew condemnation on Tuesday from both officials of the party and some of its fiercest opponents.

Bremen police said they believe the attack on Frank Magnitz, a lawmaker in Germany’s national parliament who leads the party’s local branch, was politically motivated. They called for witnesses to the attack around 5.20pm on Monday near a city theatre to come forward.

Magnitz was beaten over the head with an unidentified object by at least three men wearing dark clothing and hoods or hats, who then fled, police said. Two workers who were loading a car nearby found him lying on the ground and called an ambulance. The 66-year-old was hospitalised.

The party, known by its German acronym AfD, said earlier on Tuesday that Magnitz was ambushed after he left a local newspaper’s new year’s reception, beaten unconscious with a piece of wood and then kicked in the head as he lay on the ground.

“It was clearly an attempt to murder Mr. Magnitz,” AfD co-leader Alexander Gauland told reporters in Berlin.

“This is the result of the ostracism and agitation AfD faces,” he said, suggesting other parties were partly responsible for the attack because they had compared AfD to Adolf Hitler’s Nazi party.

The party claims there have been “hundreds” of attacks against its officers and members since its founding in 2013.

Last week, an explosion outside one of its offices in the eastern town of Doebeln damaged windows and doors.

AfD distributed a photo of Magnitz lying on a hospital gurney, showing a bloody, gaping wound on his head and his right eye bruised and swollen.

Magnitz told the dpa news agency he had been told he would need to remain hospitalised until the weekend and had little memory of the attack.

He added that while he had received threats, he hadn’t considered any of them concrete.

Magnitz is associated with the extreme right of the party, including its firebrand leader in the eastern state of Thuringia, Bjoern Hoecke.

Bremen, Germany’s smallest state, holds a regional election on May 26, the same day as European Parliament elections in which AfD hopes to make gains.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, wrote on Twitter that “the brutal attack on lawmaker Frank Magnitz in Bremen must be strongly condemned. Hopefully police will quickly succeed in catching the perpetrators.”

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, a centre-left politician who has been a strong critic of AfD, tweeted that “violence must never be a means of political confrontation — no matter against whom or what the motives are.”

“There is no justification for this,” he said, calling for those responsible to be punished.

That was echoed by other politicians from established parties, including prominent Green party politician Cem Ozdemir, who said that AfD must be countered by legal means, not violence. “Anyone who fights hatred with hatred always lets hatred win in the end,” he wrote on Twitter.

AfD is represented in all of Germany’s 16 state parliaments. It entered the national parliament in 2017 and is currently the biggest opposition party there. It views the country’s established political parties with contempt, and the feeling is mutual.

The party took 10 per cent of the vote in Bremen in the 2017 national election, below its nationwide result of 12.6 per cent. Bremen is not considered an AfD stronghold, unlike three states in Germany’s ex-communist east that hold regional votes in September and October.

Germany has seen other attacks on politicians in recent years.

In 2015, a far-right extremist stabbed in the neck a leading mayoral candidate for Cologne, who at the time was in charge of housing refugees. Henriette Reker was elected mayor the following day while in an induced coma and took office about a month later.

In 2017, a man with a knife attacked the mayor of Altena in western Germany. The mayor was known for voluntarily taking in more asylum seekers than the small town was obliged to.