Germany said Wednesday it would “defend itself” against radicalised anti-vaccination groups after police launched raids in response to death threats against a top politician backing sweeping measures to fight the pandemic.
Police and special forces staged an operation in Saxony after an anti-vaccine group targeted the region’s state premier Michael Kretschmer, who has vocally supported curbs for the unvaccinated in one of the areas of the country with the lowest inoculation rates.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who took office last week, said Germany would “not allow a tiny minority of uninhibited extremists to try to impose its will on the whole of society”.
The security forces launched the raids targeting five suspects in the eastern cities of Dresden and Heidenau, following threats from an anti-vaccine group against Kretschmer.
Threats against politicians and other public figures were “not acceptable”, Kretschmer said during a press conference, adding that “every effort” would be made to pursue any perpetrators.
“Statements from certain members of the group suggested they might have real weapons and crossbows,” police said, without indicating if any arrests had been made.
Audio messages called for members to oppose the restrictions in place and “if necessary with weapons”, targeting politicians — in particular, Kretschmer.
Authorities suspected “the preparation of a violent crime that threatens the state”, police later said on Twitter.
The investigation was opened after journalists from public broadcaster ZDF infiltrated an encrypted chat on the Telegram messaging app and reported on the death threats last week.
– ‘Bloody resistance’ –
ZDF revealed the contents of messages allegedly involving a hundred members of the chat group “linked by their opposition to vaccines, to the state and the current health policies”, police said.
In his first speech to parliament as chancellor, Scholz vowed a zero-tolerance policy against such extremist groups.
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”, he said.
The rise of violent far-right extremism in Germany was the “biggest threat to our democracy”, Scholz added.
A large, partly radicalised movement has emerged in Germany against health restrictions imposed during the pandemic.
In the midst of a strong fourth wave of the virus, the national government decided to strengthen restrictions on unvaccinated people, banning them from public venues, restaurants and non-essential commerce.
Scholz has said parliament could vote on compulsory vaccination in the coming weeks, with the obligation to get the jab coming into force in February or March.
On Wednesday, police in Berlin confirmed they were investigating threats sent to several politicians across the country, which promised a “bloody resistance” against obligatory vaccines.
One of the letters, of which there were “more than a dozen”, contained a piece of meat wrapped in aluminium foil.
– ‘Radicalised’ –
Opposition to health restrictions is particularly strong in Saxony, in former communist East Germany, one of the regions worst hit by the resurgent coronavirus and where the vaccination rate is lower than the national average.
At the beginning of December, protestors gathered outside the house of the Saxony state minister of health with torches and whistles, a demonstration that was condemned by politicians.
The anti-vaccination scene was “being radicalised, not just politically but also showing a readiness to use violence,” police union chief Rainer Wendt told local media.
Between 15,000 and 20,000 people were currently implicated in the radical tendency, security expert Sebastian Fiedler of Scholz’s Social Democrats told the Bild daily on Tuesday.
Germany has seen a rise in political violence in recent years, often attributed to far-right assailants.