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 grouping 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,” adding 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.
Weekly 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.
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Federal prosecutors declined to confirm or deny that the barracks was searched.
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.
They are 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 a statement by prosecutors. They added that members of the group also believe Germany is ruled by a so-called ‘deep state;’ similar baseless claims about the United States were made by former President Donald Trump.
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.
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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.
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 party.
The party, known by its German acronym AfD, has increasingly come under scrutiny by German security services due to its ties with extremists.