BERLIN (AP) — Four people were arrested in Germany and weapons were seized in an investigation into suspected anti-government extremists who allegedly planned to cause a long nationwide blackout and kidnap well-known figures including the country’s health minister, authorities said Thursday.
Prosecutors in Koblenz and Rhineland-Palatinate’s state criminal police office said that raids were carried out at 20 properties across the country Wednesday following an investigation that was launched in October. The suspects were members of a chat group called “United Patriots” on the Telegram messenger service.
Investigators said the suspects they identified were associated with the protest movement against coronavirus restrictions and with the Reich Citizens movement, which disputes the legitimacy of the post-World War II German constitution and, by extension, the current government. In all, 12 people are under investigation.
Investigators said in a statement that the group’s declared aim was to destroy Germany’s electricity supply facilities and cause a long blackout, with the goal of producing “conditions similar to civil war” and ultimately overthrowing the country’s democratic system.
Police seized 22 firearms, including a Kalashnikov rifle, along with hundreds of rounds of ammunition, thousands of euros in cash, and numerous gold bars and silver coins.
The group allegedly planned to kidnap well-known public figures. Investigators said those included Health Minister Karl Lauterbach, the German news agency dpa reported.
Lauterbach said he was “appalled” to hear the news and thanked investigators.
“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 during a visit to Husum on Germany’s North Sea coast. “This is a small minority in our society, but highly dangerous.”
“This will not influence my own work,” Lauterbach said, adding that he will continue trying to balance the interests of people who want looser measures against COVID-19 with those who want stricter ones.
The suspects, all German citizens, are accused of preparing a serious act of violence and of violating weapons laws.