Italian police on Wednesday morning arrested a suspected member of the Reich Citizens Movement, a far-right group that investigators believe sought to overthrow the German government in an armed coup.
The suspect is a 64-year-old German citizen and was arrested at a hotel in the Ponte San Giovanni neighborhood of Perugia.
According to the Italian police, the suspect is a former member of the special corps of the German army.
The police announced that the suspect would be extradited to Germany as soon as possible.
Thousands of police also carried out raids across much of Germany on Wednesday against suspected far-right extremists.
German federal prosecutors said some 3,000 officers carried out searches at 130 sites in 11 of Germany’s 16 states. Officials said 25 people were arrested.
While police raids against the far right are not uncommon in the country, the scale of the operation was unusual. German media described it as one of the country’s largest ever police actions against extremists.
Besides the raids in Germany and Italy, a suspected far-right extremist was also arrested in the Austrian town of Kitzbuehel.
In Berlin, the former member of the Bundestag, Birgit Malsack-Winkemann, was also arrested. Malsack-Winkemann has been a member of the far-right Alternative für Deutschland party since its founding in 2013.
Those arrested are accused of having formed “a terrorist group by the end of November 2021 at the latest, which had set itself the goal of overthrowing the existing state order in Germany and replacing it with their own type of State,” read a statement.
The Reichsbuerger movement includes neo-Nazis, conspiracy theorists, and gun enthusiasts who reject the legitimacy of the modern German republic.
Its supporters generally believe in the continued existence of the pre-World War I German Reich, or empire, under a monarchy and several groups have declared their own states.
Long dismissed as malcontents and eccentrics, the Reichsbuerger have become increasingly radicalized in recent years and are seen as a growing security threat.
They reportedly plan to name one of the arrested suspects, identified by local media as an aristocrat and businessman, Prince Heinrich XIII Reuss, as Germany’s new leader after the coup.
Heinrich XIII had previously sought to contact Russian officials to discuss Germany’s “new public order” after the coup, prosecutors said.
There was, however, “no indication that the contact persons responded positively to his request”.
A Russian woman named Vitalia B., who was among those arrested on Wednesday, is suspected of facilitating those contacts, prosecutors added.
The Russian Embassy in Berlin said it “does not maintain contact with representatives of terrorist groups or other illegal entities”, according to a statement carried by Russian news agencies.