A German soldier was one of dozens of suspects detained on Wednesday during nationwide raids into an extremist group that allegedly aimed to overthrow the government, prosecutors said on Wednesday.
Raids involving around 3,000 police officers took place in 11 of Germany’s 16 federal states. Some 130 locations were searched.
The key suspects belonged to an unnamed terrorist movement linked to the so-called Reichsbürger (Reich Citizens) movement, prosecutors said.
Followers of the Reichsbürger movement do not acknowledge the existence of the German state.
An active soldier in the Bundeswehr’s Special Forces Command (KSK) and several Bundeswehr reservists are suspects in the case, a spokesperson for the Military Counter-Intelligence Service (MAD) told dpa.
The active soldier was assigned to the staff of the KSK, MAD said. According to information obtained by dpa, he is a non-commissioned officer.
The soldier’s house and his office in the Graf Zeppelin barracks in the state of Baden-Württemberg were searched as part of the raids.
Alleged links between some members of the German army and right-wing groups has been a highly sensitive subject in Germany in recent years.
Members of the Reichsbürger movement often refuse to pay taxes and amass illegal weapons. Some are convinced that Germany is run by members of a so-called “deep state” – a conspiracy theory also prevalent in other countries.
The movement in Germany is made up of smaller groups with names such as “Confederation of the German Reich” or “Kingdom Germany.”
Germany’s domestic intelligence agency estimates that the movement has around 21,000 adherents.
Twenty-two of those arrested on Wednesday are said to be members of a terrorist organization – as yet unnamed – linked to the Reichsbürger, according to the prosecutors’ office. Two of them are suspected ringleaders. Three others are suspected of being supporters of the organization.
In addition, there are 27 others accused in connection with the case.
The members had founded the group by the end of November 2021 at the latest, prosecutors said.
It was apparently highly organized, with a decision-making “council,” including departments such as justice, foreign affairs and health.
“The members of the ‘council’ had met regularly in secret since November 2021 to plan the intended takeover of power in Germany and the establishment of their own state structures,” the federal prosecutor’s office said.
A “military arm” was to “eliminate” the democratic constitutional state at municipal, district and commune level, the office said.
The members were aware and accepted that there would be deaths in the process, it said.
Some suspected members of the military arm had actively served in the Bundeswehr.
The alleged plans to topple the government revealed “the abyss of a terrorist threat,” according to Interior Minister Nancy Faeser.
The perpetrators were “driven by violent coup fantasies and conspiracy theories,” she said.
“Militant Reichsbürger are united by their hatred of democracy, of our state and of people who stand up for our community,” she said.
Parliamentary leaders of the three coalition parties – the Social Democrats, the Greens and the Free Democrats (FDP) – also condemned the movement in a joint press conference.
“We take what we have experienced today very seriously. Right-wing extremist terrorism is one of the greatest dangers to our democracy,” said Greens faction leader Katharina Dröge.
The officials noted that a former lawmaker of the far-right Alternative for Germany party was among the suspects. The FDP’s Christian Dürr said the party was interested only “in the destruction of parliamentary democracy.”
“And it is precisely as parliamentary party leaders that we protect this parliamentary democracy that is under attack,” he said.