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German authorities have reportedly arrested four people who they allege were involved an anti-government plot to kidnap well-known public figures like the country’s health minister and cause a nationwide blackout.
Koblenz prosecutors and Rhineland-Palatinate’s state criminal police office said raids were carried out at 20 properties across Germany Wednesday following an investigation launched last year.
The suspects were members of a chat group called “United Patriots” on the Telegram messaging service.
Investigators said the suspects had ties to protest movements against COVID-related restrictions and with the Reich Citizens movement, which dispute Germany’s post-World War II order.
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Authorities allege that the group aimed to destroy electricity supply facilities and cause a nationwide blackout, producing “conditions similar to civil war” and overthrowing the country’s democratic system.
Police seized nearly two dozen firearms, including a Kalashnikov rifle, ammunition, money and forged COVID-19 vaccination and test certificates.
Investigators also said they planned to kidnap well-known public figures, like Health Minister Karl Lauterbach. He said that protests against coronavirus restrictions have morphed into more radical demands to overthrow the government.
“The whole thing shows that corona protests have not just become more radical, but that it is now about more than corona — that there is an attempt here to destabilize the state,” he told reporters. “This is a small minority in our society, but highly dangerous.”
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The suspects, all German citizens, are accused of preparing a serious act of violence and of violating weapons laws.
“We are dealing with a mixture consisting of conspiracy theorists, opponents of vaccination but also Reich Citizens that we hadn’t seen in this form so far,” said the head of Rhineland-Palatinate state’s criminal police office, Johannes Kunz.
He said group members repeatedly expressed their disdain for the German state, expressing the wish that Russian President Vladimir Putin should not just attack Ukraine but also invade Germany, news agency dpa reported.
Prosecutor Juergen Brauer said the group’s procurement of weapons and money made clear to investigators that they were dealing “dangerous criminals” not just “cranks.”
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German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said that the investigation pointed to “a serious terrorist threat,” and that the Lauterbach kidnapping plan and fantasies about overthrowing democracy constitute “a new quality of threat.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.