German police have busted a suspected terrorist cell accused of plotting a far-right coup to overthrow the government, kill politicians and establish a military regime.
They revealed extraordinary details of a plot said to involve weapons training, planning for an interim government and attempts to win support in Russia.
Some of the suspects allegedly planned to storm Germany's parliament with a small armed group.
"The investigations give us a glimpse into the abyss of the terrorist threat," German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said.
"From what we know so far, the suspected terror group uncovered today is driven by violent coup fantasies and conspiracy theories."
Dozens of properties were searched in what was described as the biggest anti-terror raid in German history, involving more than 3,000 police officers.
The group allegedly included former soldiers and made particular efforts to recruit from the police and military, which have been plagued by extremist elements.
It was said to be inspired by so-called Reichsbuerger (Citizens of the Reich) ideology, a movement which rejects the legitimacy of the post-1945 German state.
Prosecutors said the plotters were also influenced by QAnon conspiracy theories and believed Germany was run by a "deep state".
One alleged ringleader was Prince Heinrich XIII, a descendant of German nobility who is said to have made contacts with Russia.
Prosecutors said an alleged intermediary, a Russian woman called Vitalia, was also arrested.
They said there was no evidence Heinrich's Russian interlocutors responded positively to him.
Heinrich allegedly led secret meetings of the group's ruling council in which detailed plans were made for a military regime.
It even mimicked a real government by appointing people to justice, health and foreign affairs portfolios, the federal prosecutors said.
Another suspect named as Birgit M-W was identified by German media as Birgit Malsack-Winkemann, a former MP from the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.
After leaving parliament last year, she was recently given approval by a Berlin court to return to her previous role as a judge.
The group's paramilitary arm had gone as far as acquiring weapons, taking shooting practice and preparing to set up militias, prosecutors said.
"Members of the organisation know that their intentions can only be carried out with the use of military means and violence against government officials," a statement said.
"The organisation knows that people would be killed, but accepts this because it regards it as a necessary step to change the system on all levels."
In total, 22 suspected members and three suspected supporters of a far-right terrorist group were detained in the raids in 11 states.
They were due to appear before a judge on Wednesday and Thursday.
The security forces raided more than 100 properties across the country in the co-ordinated early morning raids.
The operation began at 6am at a house in the Wannsee residential area of Berlin, reports said. Minutes later, a hunting lodge in the east was raided.
The newspaper Der Spiegel reported that the barracks of a special forces unit were searched.
The cell had been making plans with "growing intensity" since at least November last year, it is alleged.
The Reichsbuerger movement believes the prewar German Empire was never validly dissolved and that Germany is still awaiting liberation from the wartime Allies.
Germany’s domestic intelligence agency says the Reichsbuerger scene overlaps with the neo-Nazi fringe and includes anti-Semitic elements.
It has caused growing alarm after orchestrating unrest and recruiting new supporters during the coronavirus pandemic.
One anti-lockdown rally nearly spilt over into violence in 2020 when a group of protesters tried to storm into parliament in Berlin.
The alleged coup plot “shows the real threat to democracy in Germany – extreme-right groups and Reichsbuerger who dream of a coup,” said a Green party MP, Sabine Gruetzmacher.