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Germany busts far-right cell plotting to 'overthrow state'

Russia denies links with German 'terrorist' groups

By AFP - Dec 07,2022 - Last updated at Dec 07,2022

German special police forces detain Heinrich XIII Prinz Reuss after searching a house in Frankfurt / Main, western Germany, on Wednesday as part of nationwide early morning raids against members of a far-right ‘terror group’s uspected of planning an attack on parliament (AFP photo)

FRANKFURT/MOSCOW — German police staged nationwide raids on Wednesday and arrested 25 people suspected of belonging to a far-right "terror cell" plotting to overthrow the government and attack parliament.

Around 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 country's largest police actions ever against extremists.

The raids targeted alleged members of the "Citizens of the Reich" (Reichsbuerger) movement suspected of "having made concrete preparations to violently force their way into the German parliament with a small armed group", federal 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 prosecutors in 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, 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.

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.

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, 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 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” (Lateral Thinkers) group that opposed the government’s coronavirus-related shutdowns. Meanwhile, the Russian embassy in Berlin on Wednesday denied maintaining links to far-right terror groups in Germany after a Russian woman was among people arrested over a suspected government overthrow plot.

“The Russian Embassy in Germany draws attention to the fact that Russian diplomatic and consular offices in Germany do not maintain contacts with representatives of terrorist groups or other illegal entities,” the embassy said in a statement carried by Russian news agencies.

German prosecutors arrested one Russian citizen who they suspect of facilitating attempts to make contact between a would-be group leader and Russian officials.

They said however that there was “no indication” the attempts were successful.

The Kremlin on Wednesday described the arrests as a “domestic German issue”.

“They themselves have said that there can be no discussion of some kind of Russian intervention,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists.

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