By Enyichukwu Enemanna
Far-right extremists allegedly plotting to overthrow the government in Germany in an armed coup were on Wednesday arrested during series of raids by thousands of police.
The suspects allegedly planned to install an elderly member of a German noble family as the country’s new leader and had been in contact with Russian officials about the scheme.
The Russian embassy in Berlin denied having any links to terror groups or illegal organisations in Germany.
Federal prosecutors said nearly 3,000 officers conducted searches at 130 sites in 11 of Germany’s 16 states against adherents of the so-called Reich Citizens movement. Some members of the group reject Germany’s postwar constitution and have called for the overthrow of the government.
Justice Minister Marco Buschmann described the raids as an “anti-terrorism operation”, adding that the suspects may have planned an armed attack on institutions of the state.
Prosecutors said 22 German citizens were detained on suspicion of “membership in a terrorist organisation”. Three other people, including a Russian citizen, are suspected of supporting the organisation, they said.
Weekly Der Spiegel reported that locations searched include the barracks of Germany’s special forces unit KSK in the southwestern town of Calw. The unit has in the past been investigated over alleged far-right involvement by some soldiers.
Federal prosecutors declined to confirm or deny that the barracks were searched.
Prosecutors said that one person was also detained in the Austrian town of Kitzbuehel and another in the Italian city of Perugia.
Prosecutors said those detained are alleged to last year have formed a “terrorist organisation with the goal of overturning the existing state order in Germany and replace it with their own form of state, which was already in the course of being founded.”
The suspects were aware that their aim could only be achieved by military means and with force, prosecutors said.
They are alleged to have believed in a “conglomerate of conspiracy theories consisting of narratives from the so-called Reich Citizens as well as QAnon ideology,” according to a statement by prosecutors.
They added that members of the group also believe Germany is ruled by a so-called ‘deep state.’
Prosecutors identified two suspected ringleaders, and Der Spiegel reported that one was a well-known 71-year-old member of a minor German noble family, while the other was a 69-year-old former paratrooper.
Federal prosecutors said the group planned to install the minor noble as Germany’s new leader and had contacted Russian officials with the aim of negotiating a new order in the country once the German government was overthrown. He was allegedly assisted in this by a Russian woman.
“According to current investigations there is no indication however that the persons contacted responded positively to his request,” prosecutors said.
A further person detained by police Wednesday was identified by as a female judge and former lawmaker with the far-right Alternative for Germany party.
The party, known by its German acronym AfD, has increasingly come under scrutiny by German security services due to its ties with extremists.