4 arrested for allegedly planning to cause a nationwide blackout and kidnap celebrities to create “civil war” conditions in Germany

Four people were arrested in Germany and weapons seized in an investigation by suspected anti-government extremists who allegedly planned to cause a long nationwide blackout and kidnap well-known individuals, including the country’s health minister, authorities said Thursday.

Prosecutors in Koblenz and the Rhineland-Palatinate state criminal police said raids were carried out on 20 properties across Germany on Wednesday after an investigation launched in October. The suspects were members of a chat group called “United Patriots” on the Telegram messaging service.

Investigators said the suspects were linked to the protest movement against COVID-19 restrictions and with the Reich Citizens movement, which disputes the legitimacy of the German constitution after World War II and, by extension, the current government. A total of 12 people are under investigation.

Authorities said the group’s stated goal was to destroy power supply facilities and cause a long-term blackout across the country with the aim of creating “conditions resembling civil war” and eventually overthrowing the country’s democratic system.

Police seized 22 firearms, including a Kalashnikov rifle, along with hundreds of cartridges, thousands of euros in cash and several gold bars and silver coins. They also found counterfeit COVID-19 vaccination and test certificates.

The group allegedly planned to kidnap celebrities. Investigators said these included Health Minister Karl Lauterbach.

Lauterbach said he was “shaken” by the news and thanked investigators.

“It all shows that corona protests have not only 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 during a visit to Husum on the German North Sea coast. . “This is a small minority in our society, but very dangerous.”

“This will not affect my own work,” Lauterbach said, adding that he will continue to try to balance the interests of people who want looser measures against COVID-19 with those who want stricter.

The suspects, all German nationals, are accused of preparing for a serious act of violence and of violating gun laws.

“We are dealing with a mix of conspiracy theorists, opponents of vaccination, but also citizens who we had not seen in this form so far,” said the head of the Rhineland-Palatinate State Criminal Police Office, Johannes Kunz.

He said group members repeatedly expressed their contempt for the German state, including expressing the desire that Russian President Vladimir Putin should not only attack Ukraine but also invade Germany, the dpa news agency reported.

Prosecutor Juergen Brauer said the group’s purchases of weapons and money made it clear to investigators that “we are not only dealing with crooks, but with dangerous criminals who want to carry out their plans.”

German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said the investigation pointed to “a serious terrorist threat” and that the Lauterbach kidnapping plan and fantasies of overthrowing democracy constitute “a new threat quality”.

Some Germans have expressed anger over restrictions on the unvaccinated and proposals to impose vaccination. In December, police thwarted a plot by anti-vaccination activists to assassinate Saxon’s prime minister in eastern Germany, Reuters reported.

About 76.6% of the German population has received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine – less than in other Western European countries such as Italy or Spain, where the numbers are well over 80%, Reuters reported.

Of Germany center-left-led government under Chancellor Olaf Scholz took office in December promised a decisive fight against right-wing extremists after criticism that the previous administration had been lax in the face of neo-Nazi violence.

Investigators last week searched alleged neo-Nazi militant cells across Germany and arrested four suspects in what Der Spiegel magazine called “the biggest blow to the militant neo-Nazi scene in recent times.”

A suspected neo-Nazi was also accused this week of trying to start a “racial war” in Germany with planned attacks using explosives and weapons.

Germany’s protests against coronavirus measures have at times drawn tens of thousands of protesters, attracting a wide mix of people, including vaccine skeptics, neo-Nazis and members of the far-right AfD party.

The arrests in Germany come six days after jurors reached a partial verdict in the case of four men accused of planning to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. Two of the defendants were acquitted on all charges while the jury upheld two other defendants, resulting in a misdemeanor on these charges.

All four were charged with conspiracy, accused by prosecutors of anger over COVID-19 restrictions imposed by the Democratic governor and attempting to ignite a civil war. Three of the men were also charged with weapons.

AFP contributed to this report.

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