German police dismantle far-right cell plotting to overthrow state

Europe AP - Boris Roessler
DEC 7, 2022 LISTEN
AP - Boris Roessler

Police in Germany have arrested 25 people suspected of belonging to a far-right "terror cell" plotting to overthrow the government and attack parliament, in a series of nationwide raids

Around 3,000 officers including elite anti-terror units took part in the early morning raids and searched more than 130 properties this Wednesday, in what German media has described as one of the country's largest ever police operation against extremists.

According to federal prosecutors, the raids targeted alleged members of the "Citizens of the Reich" – or Reichsbuerger movement – who are suspected of having made "concrete preparations to violently force their way into the German parliament with a small armed group".

Those arrested are accused of having formed "a terrorist group by the end of November 2021 at the latest, which had set itself the goal of overcoming the existing state order in Germany and replacing it with their own kind of state," they said in a statement.

Two of the 25 arrests were made abroad, in Austria and Italy.

The rise of radicals

Prosecutors in the German city of Karlsruhe said they had identified a further 27 people as suspected members or supporters of the terror network.

The Reichsbuerger movement includes neo-Nazis, conspiracy theorists and gun enthusiasts who reject the legitimacy of the modern German republic.

Long dismissed as malcontents and oddballs, the Reichsbuerger have become increasingly radicalised in recent years and are seen as a growing security threat.

Former soldiers are believed to be among the members of the recently established terror group and are reportedly united by a "deep rejection of state institutions and the free, democratic basic order of the Federal Republic of Germany."

The suspects were aware that their plan "could only be realised by using military means and violence against state representatives," the prosecutors added.

Justice Minister Marco Buschmann praised the dismantling of the "suspected terror cell" on Twitter, saying it showed that Germany was able to defend its democracy.

Russian connections

Reichsbuerger followers generally believe in the continued existence of the pre-war German Reich, or empire, as it stood under the Nazis, and several groups have declared their own states.

They typically deny the authority of police and other state institutions.

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.

They allegedly planned to appoint one of the arrested suspects, Prince Heinrich XIII, as Germany's new leader after the coup.

Prosecutors maintain he had already sought to make contact with Russian officials to discuss Germany's "new state order" after the coup.

However, the Russian embassy in Berlin has denied having links to far-right terror groups in Germany. 

In a statement released this Wednesday, the Russian Embassy underlined that its diplomatic and consular offices "do not maintain contacts with representatives of terrorist groups or other illegal entities."

A Russian woman named as Vitalia B. – who was among those arrested on Wednesday – is suspected of having facilitated those contacts.

Domestic terrorism

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.

Germany's domestic intelligence service estimates that the Reichsbuerger scene consists of around 20,000 people.

Of those, more than 2,000 are deemed potentially violent.

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. 

The group was affiliated with the Reichsbuerger movement and the so-called "Querdenker" – or Lateral Thinkers group – that opposed the government's Covid-19 lockdowns.