German authorities carried out the biggest-ever raid targeting right-wing extremists, saying a nationwide operation thwarted a domestic terrorist group planning to violently overthrow the government.
More than 3,000 German law-enforcement officers participated in the property search across at least seven of the country’s 16 states early on Wednesday. Twenty-five people were taken into custody, including a ring-leader nobleman and a former lawmaker with the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany. Others are former military personnel.
Authorities didn’t describe an imminent attack. But members of the group, which adhered to a far-right ideology that rejects the legitimacy of Germany’s post-World War II order, planned to attack the German parliament in Berlin, according to the Federal Prosecutor.
The organization is “united by their hatred of democracy, of our state and of people who stand up for our community,” Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said in a statement “That is why we are taking action against such efforts with the full force of the rule of law.”
Members of the group were also driven by the QAnon conspiracy theory movement, many of whose followers were present on the steps of the US Capitol during the Jan. 6 attack in the waning days of Donald Trump’s presidency.
“They are firmly convinced that Germany is currently ruled by members of a so-called Deep State,” according to the prosecutor. They believe that the country will be liberated by the “Alliance,” a secret organization of governments, intelligence services and armed forces of various nations, including Russia and the US.
The group’s members fell within Germany’s so-called “Reichsbürger” movement, a lose agglomeration whose ideology draws from the country’s pre-World War I militaristic monarchy and rejects the democratic structures of the Federal Republic, established in 1949 as West Germany.
Part of the plan was to set up an interim government and begin negotiations with the victorious World War II governments, above all Russia. The nobleman, identified as Heinrich XIII P. R., the leader of the group, sought to make contact with Russian authorities, according to the prosecutor.
“There are however no indications so far in the investigation that representatives reacted positively to his suggestions,” the prosecutor said in the statement. Among those detained were a Russian citizen, identified as Vitalia B., a suspected supporter who is accused of facilitating contacts with Moscow.
Uli Groetsch, a spokesman on domestic policy for Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats, said it was the largest counterterrorism operation in German history and warned that it was only “the tip of the iceberg.”
As well as the Reichsbürger scene, Germany’s security agencies were also implicated, Groetsch said by email, adding that he was not surprised that some of the suspects appeared to have links to the far-right AfD.
“The hurdles for removing enemies of the constitution in the civil service must be lowered,” Groetsch said. “It’s unacceptable that an accused extremist was still working as a judge.”
One of the people detained was taken into custody in Perugia, Italy and one in Kitzbuehel, Austria.
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