BERLIN — German authorities on Wednesday arrested 25 people suspected of plotting to use armed force to storm parliament and violently overthrow the state, marking one of the country’s largest ever raids targeting right-wing extremists.

Those arrested included a 71-year-old German aristocrat and a former parliamentarian with the right-wing Alternative for Germany party, according to the public prosecutor and officials.

The majority are accused of being part of a “terrorist organization,” according to the prosecutor’s statement. The remaining three — including a Russian national — were detained on suspicion of being supporters.

In addition to the arrests, police searched the properties of a further 27 individuals who are being investigated on an “initial suspicion” of being a member or having supported the organization, the statement said. More than 3,000 police officers were involved in the raids, which took place in 11 of Germany’s 16 states.

The accused subscribe to a variety of conspiracy theories, including QAnon, but draw most heavily from the Reichsbürger movement, which denies the existence of the modern German state, officials said. But they warned it would be naive to dismiss them as cranks.

“Of course there are many busybodies who tell confused stories after drinking alcohol,” Justice Minister Marco Buschmann tweeted. “Here, however, there were such strong suspicions that the group wanted to take violent action.”

That included plans to use arms to storm the Reichstag, Germany’s parliament building, he said.

Twenty-five people accused of a far right plot to overthrow the government, have been arrested in police raids in Germany. (Video: Reuters)

Germany disbands elite military unit after reports of right-wing extremism

The details of the suspected plot triggered comparisons to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, as German politicians raised it as a reminder of what can happen when anti-constitutional plans are allowed to manifest.

“At the latest since January 6, 2021, we have known that anti-democratic speech can also be followed by actions directed against democracy and parliament,” said Greens party lawmaker Konstantin von Notz. Today, the German security authorities have succeeded in putting a stop to such plans to seize power.”

The group was united in a belief that Germany is run by a members of a “deep state,” the prosecutor said, adding that it was prepared to use violence — including the murder of state representatives — to carry out its aim of replacing the existing order in Germany with its own form of government.

The group had planned out the structure of the state apparatus it planned to install once Germany’s government was overthrown, including departments of health, justice and foreign affairs.

Prosecutors said Prince Heinrich XIII, 71, a descendant of the House of Reuss, a royal dynasty from the German state of Thuringia, was head of its central “council.” Footage broadcast on German media showed the prince, dressed in a green tweed jacket, being led out of his Frankfurt apartment in handcuffs.

“Since November 2021, the members of the ‘Council’ have regularly met in secret to plan the intended takeover of power in Germany and the establishment of their own state structures,” the statement said. Members believed that “liberation” would be assisted by the intervention of the “Alliance” — a secret society of military and governments, including those of Russia and the United States.

Heinrich XIII had reached out to Russian representatives inside Germany, the prosecutor’s office said — although it added there were no indications of a positive response to his overtures.

Birgit Malsack-Winkemann, who was a representative in Germany’s parliament for Alternative for Germany, known by its German acronym AfD, until 2021 was slated to be justice minister, according to a security official who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject. At the time of her arrest she was an active judge at the Berlin Regional Court.

The council also had a military arm, which would have been involved in the armed takeover of the state and was in charge of procuring arms, the statement said. This body included former members of Germany’s armed forces, and recruitment efforts were targeted toward members of the military and police.

Raids were carried out with caution as some suspects were known to be licensed weapons holders, the security official said.

“We are seeing a dangerous cocktail of people from the Reichsbürger movement, right-wing extremists, neo-Nazis and others who build on this group with their conspiracy theories,” he added. The group included doctors and lawyers “with the Prince on top,” he said.

The Reichsbürger or “Reich citizen” movement subscribes to a state based on Germany’s pre-World War II borders. Modern laws and governments are considered illegitimate, and some believe that descendants of former German royal families should be reinstated in their positions.

It is a small extremist fringe that has grown in recent years, rising to more prominence during the pandemic, when its members took to the street alongside a mix of conspiracy theorists and other right-wing groups. The movement is made up of small groups active across borders and online, with German intelligence warning that some subgroups have rapidly grown in recent years.

In 2021, the movement was estimated to include about 21,000 people nationwide, according to a report by Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, which estimated that about 10 percent of those were “violence-oriented.”

“The investigations provide a glimpse into the abyss of a terrorist threat from the Reichsbürger milieu,” said German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser. “The suspected terrorist organization uncovered today is — according to the state of the investigations — driven by violent overthrow fantasies and conspiracy ideologies.”

The barracks of a unit of Germany’s Special Forces Command, known as the KSK, was among the locations raided on Wednesday, Der Spiegel magazine reported. The German Defense Ministry disbanded one unit of the elite counterterrorism force in 2020 and announced a restructuring due to suspected extreme right-wing ties of its members.

According to Germany’s Die Zeit newspaper, one of the defendants posted on Telegram shortly before the raids that public prosecutors, judges and health authorities would “soon find themselves in the dock at Nuremberg 2.0,” in reference to the trials of Nazi war criminals held after World War II.

The suspects were set to appear in court on Wednesday and Thursday.

Bisset reported from London.


Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *