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Germany arrests dozens suspected of plotting far-right extremist coup

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Police in Germany arrested 25 people on Wednesday who are suspected of planning to violently overthrow the government in a far-right extremist plot.

More than 3,000 police officers made 130 early morning searches across 11 of Germany’s 16 federal states in one of the biggest counterterrorism operations in the country’s history.

The group includes a nobleman with a historic royal title and various armed forces veterans. It is centered on the so-called Reichsbürger, or Reich Citizens, movement which is motivated by conspiracy theories about the role and legitimacy of the modern German state.

Those arrested will appear in court Wednesday and Thursday. The homes of a further 27 people suspected of being members or supporters of the group have been searched.

“Democracy is resilient: A major anti-terror operation has been taking place since this morning,” German justice minister Marco Buschmann wrote on Twitter early Wednesday.

“The Federal Public Prosecutor is investigating a suspected terrorist network from the Reich citizen milieu. There is a suspicion that an armed attack on constitutional bodies was planned.”

The German prosecutor’s office said the suspects belong to a terrorist group founded in November 2021 at the latest, which aims to overthrow the government in Berlin and install its own leaders through the “forcible elimination of the democratic constitutional state.”

“The members of the association are aware that this project can only be realized through the use of military means and violence against state representatives,” the prosecutor’s office said in a statement early Wednesday.

The statement added that the group was motivated by a rejection of the “free democratic basic order of the Federal Republic of Germany.”

Some member’s the group’s “military arm” are former members of the German army, the Bundeswehr, prosecutors said. The German armed forces have been beset by a series of scandals involving personnel belonging to far-right groups.

A spokesman for the German Military Security Service confirmed to NBC News that “an active member of the military’s special forces (KSK) group” was also under investigation. But the spokesman stressed that he is not part of the special forces itself and would not confirm whether the suspect was arrested.

The group is heavily influenced by right-wing conspiracy theories, authorities say, including a belief in a secretive, malign “deep state” running the country as seen in the QAnon movement. It believes that the Federal Republic of Germany is not a sovereign state and its members espouse antisemitic conspiracy theories, Germany’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution said.

Prosecutors also said the group believes that “the Alliance,” a group of national governments and intelligence services, including those of the United States and Russia, is active in Germany and about to launch an attack on the “deep state.”

Authorities said among those arrested was “Heinrich XIII P. R,” named in German media as Prince Heinrich XIII of the House of Reuss, which ruled parts of Germany until 1918. NBC News has not verified his identity.

He is considered to be a future head of state after an insurrection and he heads the group’s ruling council which has met to discuss the planned takeover, prosecutors said.

Prince Heinrich, who still uses his title despite its constitutional irrelevance, is accused of contacting representatives of the Russian Federation both in Russia and Germany in the hope of winning support for the overthrow of the Berlin government.

German prosecutors note, however, that there is no evidence Russian officials reacted positively to the request. Russia has yet to respond to the story.

Patrick Smith is a London-based editor and reporter for NBC News Digital.

Andy Eckardt

contributed

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