Police raided several locations in the eastern German city of Dresden on Wednesday after online threats were made against state Premier Michael Kretschmer and other members of the Saxony state government.
In Dresden, police searched five properties, and another place was being searched in the nearby town of Heidenau. Prosecutors said five men and a woman, aged between 32 and 64, were targeted in the investigation. All of them are German nationals. Police have reason to believe the suspects were preparing to carry out violent acts.
Officials in the German state of Saxony said "murder plans" against Premier Kretschmer were discussed via the Telegram messaging app.
"The members of the chat group, which links opponents of vaccination, the state, and the current anti-pandemic policy, stated plans of murdering the premier of Saxony and other representatives of the Saxony government, both in the group and in non-virtual meetings," police said in a statement.
How has Kretschmer responded?
Kretschmer said his state government will mobilize more people to fight extremism. He also said that threats against officials, journalists and scientists were unacceptable and "every effort" would be made to pursue any perpetrators.
"Of course, you can say what you don't like. But when violence comes into play, it's over. A line has been crossed which we will not tolerate," the 46-year-old conservative told reporters.
New German Chancellor Olaf Scholz promised to take action against extremist groups like those behind the alleged threats against Kretschmer.
Germany will "use all the means of its democratic rule of law to defend itself against this tiny minority of the hateful attacking the rest of us," the chancellor said.
Dresden Telegram group discussed 'armed force'
The raids follow a report by the investigative TV show "Frontal" on public broadcaster ZDF, which found people opposed to COVID-19 restrictions and the vaccine rollout posting what appeared to be death threats against the premier.
The report found that the 130 members of the group, called "Dresden Offlinevernetzung" or the "Dresden offline network," had shared a rejection of vaccinations, as well as the state and the current coronavirus policy. Members posted audio messages urging people to oppose policy measures "with armed force if necessary," directed against Kretschmer and others.
Specialist officers from the state's police force were deployed, as some group members had indicated in online chat and messenger forums such as Telegram that they either possessed firearms or other hunting weapons such as crossbows.
"The LKA is in action today in connection with the reporting on 'Frontal,' where there is a running investigation into a potentially serious crime in the meantime," LKA spokesman Tom Bernhardt said, speaking at the site of one of the raids.
Police later said they found "crossbows, parts of weapons, and weapons" during the raids.
However, they said it was not yet clear if the weapons were capable of firing.
Saxony's vaccination campaign faces resistance
Death threats posted online and targeting Kretschmer were connected in large part with potential COVID-19 restrictions such as the possibility of mandatory vaccinations. Saxony has both one of the highest COVID-19 caseloads in Germany and one of the lowest vaccination rates. It was also once part of the former East Germany, where some vaccinations were mandatory by law.
Dresden, the capital of Saxony, has seen numerous demonstrations against the government's COVID-19 policies and vaccines.
The latest raids come just days after a group of far-right extremists held a torchlit rally in front of the home of Saxony's Health Minister Petra Köpping.
aw, ar,dj/msh (AFP, dpa, Reuters, AP)