1. Home
  2. International

German police make mass arrests, allege domestic extremists planned parliament attack

Masked police officers lead Heinrich XIII Prince Reuss, centre, to a police vehicle during a raid in Frankfurt, Germany on Wednesday. Prosecutors said 22 German citizens were detained on suspicion of 'membership in a terrorist organization.'

Masked police officers lead Heinrich XIII Prince Reuss, centre, to a police vehicle during a raid in Frankfurt, Germany on Wednesday. Prosecutors said 22 German citizens were detained on suspicion of 'membership in a terrorist organization.'

Photo: Associated Press / Boris Roessler


Among the allegations is a plot to storm the Bundestag, Germany's parliament

Thousands of police carried out a series of raids across much of Germany on Wednesday against suspected far-right extremists who allegedly sought to overthrow the state in an armed coup.

Federal prosecutors said some 3,000 officers conducted searches at 130 sites in 11 of Germany's 16 states against adherents of the so-called Reich Citizens movement. Some members of the group reject Germany's postwar constitution and have called for the overthrow of the government.

Justice Minister Marco Buschmann described the raids as an anti-terrorism operation, noting that the suspects may have planned an armed attack on institutions of the state.

Prosecutors said 22 German citizens were detained on suspicion of membership in a terrorist organization. Three other people, including a Russian citizen, are suspected of supporting the organization, they said. A further 27 people are being investigated.

German website Der Spiegel reported that locations searched include the barracks of Germany's special forces unit KSK in the southwestern town of Calw. The unit has in the past been scrutinized over alleged far-right involvement by some soldiers.

Federal prosecutors declined to confirm or deny that the barracks was searched.

Germany's chief federal prosecutor planned to make a statement on the case later Wednesday.

The raids showed that we know how to defend ourselves with full force against the enemies of democracy, Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said.

At least 2 arrests outside the country

Along with detentions in Germany, prosecutors said that one person was detained in the Austrian town of Kitzbuehel and another in the Italian city of Perugia.

Prosecutors said those detained are alleged to last year have formed a terrorist organization with the goal of overturning the existing state order in Germany and replace it with their own form of state, which was already in the course of being founded.

The suspects were aware that their aim could only be achieved by military means and with force, prosecutors said.

Some of the group's members had made concrete preparations to storm parliament with a small armed group, according to prosecutors.

The details [of this plan] still need to be investigated to determine whether any of the suspects can be charged with treason, they said.

The group is alleged to have believed in a conglomerate of conspiracy theories consisting of narratives from the so-called Reich Citizens as well as QAnon ideology, according to the statement. Prosecutors said that members of the group also believe Germany is ruled by a so-called deep state.

Prosecutors identified the suspected ringleaders as Heinrich XIII P. R. and Ruediger v. P., in line with German privacy rules. Der Spiegel reported that the former was a well-known 71-year-old member of a minor German noble family, while the latter was a 69-year-old former paratrooper.

Former AfD member of parliament arrested

Federal prosecutors said Heinrich XIII P. R., whom the group planned to install as Germany's new leader, had contacted Russian officials with the aim of negotiating a new order in the country once the German government was overthrown. He was allegedly assisted in this by a Russian woman, Vitalia B.

According to current investigations there is no indication however that the persons contacted responded positively to his request, prosecutors said.

From Moscow, the Kremlin denied any Russian involvement in the plot.

This appears to be a German internal problem, spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters. There can be no question of any Russian interference.

A further person detained by police Wednesday was identified by prosecutors as Birgit M.-W. Der Spiegel reported that the woman is a judge and former lawmaker with the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, a description that applies to Birgit Malsack-Winkemann, who served in the Bundestag from 2017 until the 2021 federal election.

The party has increasingly come under scrutiny by German security services due to its ties with extremists. It declined to comment immediately on the report.

AfD's co-leaders Tino Chrupalla and Alice Weidel condemned the reported plans, which they said they had only learned of through the media.

We have full confidence in the authorities involved and demand a swift and comprehensive investigation, they said in a statement.

Far-right extremists biggest domestic threat: officials

Prosecutors said that apart from a council of leaders, or Rat, the group had tasked several members with the formation of an armed wing. Led by Ruediger v. P., they allegedly planned to obtain weapons and conduct firearms training. It was unclear how far advanced these plans were.

Sara Nanni, a Green party lawmaker, suggested the group may not have been very capable.

More details keep coming to light that raise doubts about whether these people were even clever enough to plan and carry out such a coup, Nanni said in a post on the social network Mastodon. The fact is: no matter how crude their ideas are and how hopeless their plans, even the attempt is dangerous!

Officials have repeatedly warned that far-right extremists pose the biggest threat to Germany's domestic security. This threat was highlighted by the killing of a regional politician and the deadly attack on a synagogue in 2019.

Faeser announced earlier this year that the government planned to disarm about 1,500 suspected extremists and to tighten background checks for those wanting to acquire guns as part of a broader crackdown on the far right.

The Associated Press with files from CBC News and Reuters