Germany steps up warnings about right-wing Identitarian Movement

BERLIN, July 11 (Reuters) - Germany's domestic intelligence agency (BfV) classified the Identitarian Movement as an extreme right-wing group on Thursday, a sign that authorities are increasingly worried about radicals with anti-Islamic and racist views.

The murder last month of a prominent regional politician by a suspected neo-Nazi shook Germans and prompted the interior minister to warn that right-wing extremism was a threat to Germany's democratic system.

The Identitarian Movement has not been linked to the killing, but the intelligence agency said the group discriminated against non-Europeans and Muslims and as such was incompatible with the constitution.

The official classification makes it easier for the agency to monitor the group's activities and members - of which it says there are 600 in Germany. The movement, with French roots, has been under scrutiny for about three years.

The BfV, which says Germany is home to 24,100 far-right radicals of whom 12,700 are potentially dangerous, said it was important not only to watch violent radicals but also those who use words to stoke racism.

"These verbal fire-raisers question people's equality and dignity, they speak of foreign infiltration, boost their own identity to denigrate others and stoke hostile feelings towards perceived enemies," said BfV President Thomas Haldenwang.

Identitarian Movement activists in Germany take part in far-right marches and hold meetings of their own, while individuals have been investigated for using banned symbols and for incitement.

In 2016, members of the movement scaled the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin and unfurled a banner to protest against what they called the "Islamisation" of Germany due to mass immigration.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's 2015 open-door migrant policy, which led to the arrival of more than 1 million people, led to a surge in support for anti-migrant groups including the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD).

Many Germans feels a special responsibility to root out racism and intolerance due to the country's Nazi past.

However, critics say verbal attacks by some AfD politicians - some of whom have links with the Identitarian Movement - against Muslim migrants, have legitimised a language of hate that fuels far-right sympathisers to embrace violence. (Reporting by Sabine Siebold Writing by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Toby Chopra)