German officials on Wednesday arrested 22 suspected members and three suspected supporters of a far-right terrorist organization nationwide on suspicion of plotting to overthrow the government.
Alleged members of the plot include a descendant of Germany’s royal family and a former far-right member of the Bundestag, Germany’s lower house, according to German prosecutors and local media.
In a statement, the German federal prosecutor’s office said an estimated 50 people were suspected of being part of the group called Reichsburgers (Reichsbürger). movement, formed by November 2021 at the latest, conspiring to overthrow the government and replace it with their own order.
“The accused are united by a deep rejection of state institutions and the basic free democratic order of the Federal Republic of Germany, which over time led to their decision to participate in their violent elimination and to take concrete preparatory actions for this purpose. to undertake. ‘ said the statement.
“The members of the group follow a conglomeration of conspiracy myths consisting of stories about so-called Reichsbürger and QAnon ideology,” the statement said, adding that the suspected members of the organization were German citizens, while two of the suspected supporters were German and one was Russian.
In the statement, German prosecutors named Heinrich XIII PR, identified by CNN affiliate NTV as 71-year-old Heinrich XIII Prince Reuss, as one of the leaders of the alleged group. The prince is a descendant of the House of Reuss, the former rulers of parts of East Germany, and now works as a real estate entrepreneur, according to NTV.
Heinrich was arrested in Frankfurt on Wednesday, according to a video distributed by Reuters showing him being escorted from a building by police officers to a waiting van, while other officers stood guard outside the property.
Prosecutors allege that Heinrich sought the involvement of Russian representatives in the alleged plan. “The accused Henry XIII PR has already contacted representatives of the Russian Federation in Germany,” the statement said.
CNN has been trying to reach Henry XIII, but it’s not clear if he has a legal representative.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied there was any Russian involvement in the coup, saying it was an internal problem for Germany. “This is rather an internal problem of the FRG (Germany) and they themselves state that there can be no question of any Russian intervention,” Peskov said in a daily conversation with journalists.
Peskov did not recognize the Russian suspect.
The statement of the prosecutor identified another suspect as Birgit MW, and ARD’s Tagesschau news reports that the person’s full name is Birgit Malsack-Winkemann, who was a member of the Bundestag from 2017 to 2021 and represented the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. Since the beginning Since this year, she has been working as a judge at the Berlin District Court, according to ARD’s Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg.
The German federal prosecutor’s office does not want to confirm the ARD’s reporting. CNN has contacted Malsack-Winkemann for comment.
German Justice Minister Marco Buschmann said on Wednesday that “democracy is defensible”, adding that a “major counter-terror operation” is underway.
“The Federal Prosecutor’s Office is investigating a suspected terrorist network from the Reich civilian milieu,” Buschmann said on Twitter.
“There are suspicions that an armed attack on constitutional organs was planned.”
The federal prosecutor’s office said the raids are continuing and are targeting an additional 27 suspects.
German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser thanked the 3,000 police officers involved in the raids, saying the Reichsbürger movement was “united by their hatred of democracy”.
Germany has struggled in recent years to come to grips with far-right extremism. In June 2020, an elite German military unit known as the KSK was partially disbanded after it was found to have a buildup of right-wing extremists. According to the Agence France-Presse news agency, the KSK carries out operations such as anti-terror campaigns and hostage-taking.
Earlier that year, in February 2020, a mass shooting killed nine people at two shisha bars in the town of Hanau, near Frankfurt. Then Chancellor Angela Merkel said the gunman had acted from “extremist, racist motives”. The incident was the third deadly attack in a year attributed to right-wing suspects in the country.
Experts linked the increasing number of violent right-wing attacks in Germany to the rise of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which in 2017 became the first far-right party to win seats in Germany’s parliament in nearly 60 years.
In March 2021, the AfD was formally placed under surveillance by Germany’s domestic intelligence agency BfV on suspicion of attempting to undermine the country’s democratic constitution.