German health minister says would-be kidnappers aimed to destabilise state
BERLIN (Reuters) – German health minister Karl Lauterbach said a foiled plot to kidnap him showed that there were forces at play that were using protests against COVID-19 restrictions to destabilise the state and the country’s democratic system.
Prosecutors said earlier on Thursday they had detained four people suspected of plotting to kidnap the minister and destroy power facilities to cause a nationwide power outage.
“This is small minority in our society but they are highly dangerous,” Lauterbach told a news conference.
The suspects were affiliated with groups that protested against COVID-19 restrictions, and with the far-right “Reichsbuerger” movement, which denies the existence of the modern German state, the prosecutor’s office in the western city of Koblenz said in a statement.
“This shows that COVID protests have not just radicalised but that this is about more than just COVID,” Lauterbach said.
The plot to kidnap him is the latest in a series of incidents that have highlighted the anger of some Germans over restrictions on those not vaccinated and proposals to make vaccination compulsory for the general public.
In December, police foiled a plot by anti-vaccination activists to murder the state premier of Saxony in eastern Germany.
Germany’s vaccination campaign is faltering with around 76.6% of the population having received at least one dose – less than in other western European countries such as Italy or Spain, where the figures are well above 80%.
Germany’s lower house of parliament last week rejected mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for people over 60, in another defeat for Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who already had to drop plans for vaccine mandate for all adults because he could not muster a parliamentary majority.
The suspects behind the latest plot communicated in a chat group called Vereinte Patrioten, German for United Patriots, and “intended to cause civil war-like conditions and ultimately overthrow the democratic system in Germany”, the prosecutor’s office said.
Authorities searched 20 properties in several German states on Wednesday, confiscating weapons including guns, ammunition and a Kalashnikov assault rifle, cash in euros and foreign currency as well as gold bars and silver coins.
They also found forged vaccination certificates and COVID tests, the office said.
The office has asked a judge to issue arrest warrants for the four detained suspects, all of whom are German nationals. A fifth suspect is at large.
(Reporting by Maria Sheahan; Editing by Tomasz Janowski and Robert Birsel)