Germany busts far-right cell planning attack on parliament
German police launched nationwide raids on Wednesday and made 25 arrests against members of a far-right "terror group" suspected of planning an attack on parliament, federal prosecutors said.
More than 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 largest police actions the country has ever seen.
The raids targeted alleged members of the "Citizens of the Reich" (Reichsbürger) movement suspected of "having made concrete preparations to violently force their way into the German parliament with a small armed group", prosecutors said in a statement.
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.
Two of the 25 arrests were made abroad, in Austria and Italy.
The Reichsbürger 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 Reichsbürger have become increasingly radical 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, federal prosecutors 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.
The suspects were aware that their plan "could only be realised by using military means and violence against state representatives," they added.
The investigation gave "a look into the abyss" of far-right terror from the movement, Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said in a statement.
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.
Demokratie ist wehrhaft: Seit heute Morgen findet ein großer Anti-Terror-Einsatz statt. Der Generalbundesanwalt ermittelt gegen ein mutmaßliches Terror-Netzwerk aus dem Reichsbürger-Milieu. Es besteht der Verdacht, dass ein bewaffneter Überfall auf Verfassungsorgane geplant war.— Marco Buschmann (@MarcoBuschmann) December 7, 2022
Reichsbürger 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 Reichsbürger 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, Heinrich XIII P.R., as Germany's new leader after the coup.
He 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."
A Russian woman named as Vitalia B., who was among those arrested on Wednesday, is suspected of having facilitated those contacts, prosecutors added.
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's domestic intelligence service estimates that the Reichsbürger 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 Reichsbürger movement and the so-called "Querdenker" (Lateral Thinkers) group that opposed the government's coronavirus-related shutdowns.