A prince, an ex-MP and former soldiers were arrested Wednesday in raids led by the German police against members of a far-right “terror group” that allegedly planned to attack parliament and overthrow the government.
The group had organised a “council” to take charge after the putsch, as well as a “military arm that would build a new German army”, chief federal prosecutor Peter Frank said at a press conference.
“Some members of the terrorist organisation also considered using force to enter the German Bundestag (parliament),” Frank said.
President Frank-Walter Steinmeier told public radio MDR he was “deeply concerned” by the alleged plot, describing it as a “new level”.
Around 3,000 officers including elite anti-terror units took part in the early morning raids and searched more than 130 properties, in what German media described as one of the country’s largest ever police actions against extremists.
The raids targeted alleged members of the “Citizens of the Reich” (Reichsbuerger) movement, federal prosecutors said in a statement.
The prosecutors in Karlsruhe, southern Germany, said they had arrested 25 people, including one in Austria and another in Italy, and identified a further 27 people as suspected members or supporters of the network.
Those arrested are accused of having formed a group that “had set itself the goal of overcoming the existing state order in Germany and replacing it with their own kind of state”, they said.
“The accused are united by a deep rejection of state institutions and the free, democratic basic order of the Federal Republic of Germany,” they said.
– Prince and politician –
The suspects were aware that their plan “could only be realised by using military means and violence against state representatives”, prosecutors said.
They allegedly planned to appoint one of the arrested suspects, identified by local media as aristocrat and businessman Prince Heinrich XIII Reuss, as Germany’s new leader after the coup.
Heinrich XIII had already sought to make contact with Russian officials to discuss Germany’s “new state order” after the coup, prosecutors said.
There was however “no indication that the contact persons responded positively to his request”, they said.
A Russian woman named only as Vitalia B., who was among those arrested on Wednesday, is suspected of having facilitated those contacts, prosecutors added.
Birgit Malsack-Winkemann, a former member of parliament for the far-right AfD party and Berlin judge, was also among those arrested.
The ex-MP had been tapped by the group to take over as justice minister after the planned coup, chief prosecutor Frank said.
Other suspected members include current and former members of the German army in the “low single digits”, a spokesman for the defence ministry said at a regular press conference.
One of those arrested was an active soldier in the KSK special forces, who worked in a “support” role, the spokesman said.
“A former officer of the special units of the German army” was likewise held near Perugia, Italy, the local police said in a statement.
– ‘Into the abyss’ –
The Reichsbuerger movement includes far-right extremists, conspiracy theorists and gun enthusiasts who reject the legitimacy of the modern German republic.
Its followers generally believe in the continued existence of the pre-World War I German Reich, or empire, under a monarchy and several groups have declared their own states.
Long dismissed as malcontents and oddballs, the Reichsbuerger have become increasingly radicalised in recent years and are seen as a growing security threat.
The investigation gave “a look into the abyss” of far-right terror from the movement, Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said in a statement.
According to prosecutors, the terror cell suspects believe in Reichsbuerger and QAnon conspiracy theories and are “strongly convinced” that Germany is run by a “deep state” that needs to be toppled.
As part of the preparations for the coup, members of the alleged terror cell acquired weapons, organised shooting practice and tried to recruit new followers, particularly among the military and police, according to prosecutors.
Germany considers far-right terrorism the biggest threat to its security following a spate of attacks in recent years.
In April, police foiled a plot by a far-right group to kidnap the health minister.