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German police raids target far-right extremists ‘seeking to overthrow state’

26 June 2020, Brandenburg, Potsdam: Policemen are standing in Potsdam central station. According to the city, the main station is now free of trains. For the clearance of a World War II bomb in Potsdam, a restricted area with a radius of about 800 meters around the site has been established. All roads leading into the area have been closed off. Photo: Julian Stähle/dpa-Zentralbild/dpa (Photo by Julian Stähle/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Thousands of officers search 130 sites across country in operation against Reich Citizens plotters

Twenty-five people including a 71-year-old German aristocrat, a retired military commander and former MP for the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) have been detained in Germany on suspicion of a terrorist plan to overthrow the state and renegotiate the country’s post-second world war settlement.

Thousands of police carried out a series of raids across Germany on Wednesday morning in connection with the far-right ring.

Federal prosecutors said 3,000 officers conducted searches at 130 sites in 11 of Germany’s 16 states against the group, whose members it said adhered to a “conglomerate of conspiracy theories” including the QAnon cult and the so-called Reich Citizens movement.

Prosecutors said 22 German citizens were detained on suspicion of “membership in a terrorist organisation”. Three other detainees, including a female Russian citizen, were suspected of supporting the organisation, they said.

Der Spiegel reported that locations searched included the barracks of Germany’s special forces unit KSK, in the south-western town of Calw. The unit has in the past been scrutinised over alleged far-right involvement by some soldiers. Federal prosecutors declined to confirm or deny that the barracks was searched.

Along with detentions in Germany, prosecutors said one person was detained in the Austrian town of Kitzbühel and another in Perugia in Italy.

German media have identified as the group’s ringleaders Heinrich XIII, 71, a descendant of the noble Reuß family that used to rule over parts of eastern Germany in the 12th century, and a former senior field officer at the German army’s paratrooper battalion named only as Rüdiger von P.

Last year, the pair founded a “terrorist organisation with the goal of overturning the existing state order in Germany and replacing it with their own form of state, which was already in the course of being founded”, with Rüdiger von P in charge of planning the military coup and Heinrich XIII mapping out Germany’s future political order.

The group had even started to nominate ministers for a transitional post-coup government, reported the newspaper Die Zeit, in which one of the suspects, the former AfD MP Birgit Malsack-Winkemann, 58, was to be federal minister for justice.

The group was convinced modern Germany was run by a “deep state” conspiracy that was about to be exposed by an alliance of German intelligence agencies and the militaries of foreign states including Russia and the US.

“Everything will be turned upside down: the current public prosecutors and judges, as well as the heads of the health departments and their superiors will find themselves in the dock at Nuremberg 2.0”, one of the suspect said in a message posted on Telegram minutes before the start of Wednesday’s raids, Die Zeit reported.

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While the suspects believed their aims could be achieved only by military means and with force, prosecutors said, it was unclear whether the group had managed to amass any serious kind of arsenal.

Several of the accused are former members of the military and are suspected of having illegally taken weapons out of the army’s stock during their years in service, while others hold arms licences.

After their takeover, the group had envisioned renegotiating the treaties Germany signed after the end of the second world war with the allies. “For now, the Russian Federation was exclusively to be the central contact for these negotiations,” prosecutors said.

While Heinrich XIII had made efforts to reach out to Moscow, prosecutors said “there is no indication that the contacts reacted positively to his approach”.

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German police raids target far-right extremists ‘seeking to overthrow state’