Germany is reeling in shock after prosecutors announced on Wednesday the arrests of 25 suspected members of a far-right group who they believe were preparing a violent coup to install a German aristocrat as national leader.
Authorities expect further arrests and raids in coming days.
Here are some details on the plot and how seriously the German authorities view it.
Inspired by far-right ideology and modern deep state conspiracy theorists, including QAnon whose supporters were among those arrested after the storming of the U.S. Capitol in 2021, the plotters aimed to stage a coup in Berlin.
Investigators have said the group, many of whom were members of the Reichsbuerger (Citizens of the Reich) movement, planned to storm the Reichstag parliament building in Berlin, arrest lawmakers and install aristocrat Heinrich XIII Prinz Reuss as leader of a new state.
“Now the fun stops. We’re going to flatten them all,” German media have reported him as saying.
The group planned to set up new departments of government and a new army with a “homeland protection company” including some experienced members of the Bundeswehr armed forces.
General Prosecutor Peter Frank said he was convinced the suspects – who include individuals with weapons and knowledge of how to use them – were resolved to act and therefore posed a real threat.
This was seen in their attempts to recruit current and former army members as well as stockpiling of weapons, Frank said.
Prinz Reuss is suspected of holding a stash of arms in his hunting lodge in the eastern state of Thuringia, and investigators said weapons were found at 50 of more than 130 searched properties.
The suspects had also procured equipment, such as protective vests, and some were practising shooting, said Frank.
Other investigators and experts say that while unlikely to have succeeded in overthrowing the government, they were ready to use violence.
“We have a dangerous mix of people who follow irrational beliefs. Some with a lot of money, others possessing weapons and with a plan they want to carry out to launch attacks,” said Wolfgang Muench, head of the BKA federal criminal police.
“That makes it dangerous and that’s why we intervened.”
General Prosecutor Frank said he knew of no specific date for an attack but that there had been discussions within the group indicating some external reasons for acting soon.
“We are convinced that the group was going to strike,” he told ARD television. “Now was the right time for us to act, in December,” he added.
More than 3,000 police officials and security forces were involved in Wednesday’s raids.
Experts say this operation, the culmination of a years-long surveillance effort, shows there has been change since widespread criticism of the intelligence authorities after they stumbled on the National Socialist Underground (NSU) neo-Nazi cell in 2011. The NSU was responsible for killing nine immigrants and a police woman between 2000 and 2007.
Following in-depth investigations into the intelligence failings which left the NSU undiscovered for so long, a new head of federal domestic intelligence agency, Thomas Haldenwang, has taken over. He has consistently highlighted the risks posed by the far right and conspiracy theorists.
Some experts also say Social Democrat (SPD) Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s coalition government, with SPD Interior Minister Nancy Faeser, has taken a more robust approach than conservative Angela Merkel’s government.