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CRIME

German police investigate death threats against pro-vaccine politician

German police and special forces on Wednesday launched an operation in the eastern city of Dresden after death threats were issued against a top politician who backed coronavirus vaccines, authorities said.

Saxony special forces raid in Dresden
Saxony special forces police conduct a raid on a house in Dresden believed to have a connection with death threats against CDU politician Michael Kretschmer on December 15th, 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Robert Michael

The security forces in Saxony acted following the threats from an anti-vaccine group against Saxony state premier Michael Kretschmer.

“Statements from certain members of the group suggested they might have real weapons,” police said in a statement.

Last week, special forces officials announced that a Telegram chat group called ‘Dresden Offline Connection’ was involved.

In their communication and in conversations at secret and partly openly filmed meetings in the greater Dresden area, there had been statements about assassination plans concerning Kretschmer and other representatives of the state government.

An investigation was opened after journalists from public broadcaster ZDF infiltrated the Telegram chat and reported on December 7th that there were death threats allegedly issued against Kretschmer.

ZDF revealed the contents of messages allegedly involving a hundred members of the chat group “linked by their opposition to vaccines, to the state and the current health policies”, the prosecutor said.

Audio messages called for opposing “if necessary with weapons” the Covid measures in place, targeting politicians — Kretschmer in particular.

Authorities suspected “the preparation of a violent crime that threatens the state”, Saxony police said on Twitter.

Anti-vaccination movement 

A large movement has emerged in Germany against health restrictions imposed during the Covid-19 pandemic.

It is particularly strong in Saxony, in former East Germany, one of the regions worst hit by the resurgent coronavirus and where the vaccination rate is lower than the national average.

At the beginning of December, protestors gathered outside the house of the Saxony state minister of health with torches and whistles, a demonstration which was condemned by politicians.

Michael Kretschmer
Saxony state premier Michael Kretschmer (CDU) leaves the state chancellery on November 30th, 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Sebastian Kahnert

READ ALSO: Germany’s new government condemns ‘aggressive’ anti-vax movement

In the midst of a strong fourth wave of the virus, the German government decided to strengthen restrictions on unvaccinated people, banning them from public venues, restaurants and non-essential commerce.

Compulsory vaccination could be voted on by the German parliament in the coming weeks, with the obligation to get the jab coming into force in February or March.

The number of individuals opposed to the health restrictions and prepared to use violence was between 15,000 and 20,000, Social Democrat security expert Sebastian Fiedler said on Tuesday in an interview with the German daily Bild.

Telegram should ‘eliminate hate and agitation’

The news also comes amid growing calls for action against Telegram.

Speaking to the Augsburger Allgemeine on Wednesday, Bavarian state premier Markus Söder said the encrypted messaging service was becoming a central route for hate and agitation on the internet.

“First of all, one has to make the clear demand to Telegram to eliminate hate and agitation and also make it legally binding,” he said. “Should that service then not agree to help, then there are also ways to block it.” 

READ ALSO: German protests against Covid restrictions turn nasty

The Federal Office of Justice categorises Telegram as a social network, rather than a simple messaging service – meaning that it falls under the same regulations as Facebook and Twitter. Under these laws, criminal content should be blocked or deleted quickly.

According to the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, supporters of the Covid-denier scene often use the service to spread their messages and mobilise for demonstrations and events.

By Sebastien Ash, with additional reporting by The Local

Vocabulary 

Special forces – (die) Spezialkräfte

Death threats – (die) Morddrohungen 

Encrypted – verschlüsselt 

Legally binding – rechtlich verbindlich

We’re aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.

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CRIME

One injured in school shooting in Bremerhaven

A 21-year-old gunman opened fire at a secondary school in northern Germany on Thursday, badly injuring a female member of staff before being arrested, police said.

One injured in school shooting in Bremerhaven

The incident happened at the Lloyd Gymnasium school in the centre of Bremerhaven, a city on Germany’s North Sea coast, on Thursday morning. 

“The armed person has been arrested and is in police custody,” police said in a statement. The injured woman was not a pupil, police said.

They said the suspect had entered the school building and fired at a female member of staff, who was “seriously injured”.

The alarm was quickly raised and police said they detained the suspect at a nearby location soon after and had seized his weapon at the scene.

The injured woman is being treated in hospital.

A video circulating on social media and German news sites appeared to capture the moment the gunman was arrested.

A man dressed in black is seen lying face down on a street corner, with a weapon next to him, before being handcuffed by officers.

But there was no immediate confirmation of reports the alleged weapon was a crossbow.

Bremerhaven police tweeted in the morning that a large deployment was under way in the city centre and asked residents to avoid the Mayor-Martin-Donandt square and surrounding streets, in the vicinity of the Lloyd secondary school.

Local news site Nord24 said a school pupil had heard shots being fired and called the police. Pupils barricaded themselves in their classrooms.

Police launched a large-scale operation and cordoned off the area around the school while they carried out inquiries. 

By mid-afternoon, police said special forces had completed their search and the last people had left the building.

Authorities set up a phone hotline for concerned parents. Many parents had gathered in front of the school after being alerted by their children.

Pupils and staff are receiving psychological counselling.

Local media said only around 200 people were on the school grounds, fewer than normal because of exam times.

In a separate incident on Thursday, police in the eastern city of Leipzig said they had detained a 21-year-old student still at secondary school after being tipped off by Snapchat that he had posted pictures of himself with a gun and made unspecified threats.

The US social media platform alerted German authorities, prompting Leipzig police to take action.

 A police spokesman said that the 21-year-old did not pose a real threat, however, and only possessed an airsoft gun, a replica firearm that uses non-lethal, usually plastic, pellets.

‘Strict gun laws’

School shootings are relatively rare in Germany, a country with some of the strictest gun laws in Europe. But a recent spate has rattled the population.

Last week, investigators in Germany’s city of Essen said they foiled a school bomb assault, as they arrested a 16-year-old who is suspected to have been planning a “Nazi terror attack”.

Police in Essen stormed the teen’s room overnight, taking him into custody and uncovering 16 “pipe bombs”, as well as anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim material.

In January, an 18-year-old student opened fire in a lecture hall at Heidelberg University in southwestern Germany, killing a young woman and
injuring three others before fleeing the scene and turning the weapon on himself.

In 2009, a former pupil killed nine students, three teachers and three passers-by in a school shooting at Winnenden, in the German state of Baden-Württemberg. The gunman then killed himself.

In 2002, a 19-year-old former student, apparently in revenge for having been expelled, shot dead 16 people including 12 teachers and two students at a school in the central German city of Erfurt. He too then killed himself.

The Winnenden and Erfurt massacres were carried out with legal weapons and spurred Germany to tighten gun laws.

The country currently requires anyone under 25 to pass a psychiatric exam before applying for a gun licence.

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