Police in Germany’s eastern state of Saxony have launched a series of raids after death threats were made against Premier Michael Kretschmer for backing coronavirus measures.
Far-right anti-vaccination activists are suspected of plotting violence with crossbows or other “piercing weapons”. Saxony has the lowest Covid-19 vaccine take-up in Germany.
Last year Mr Kretschmer warned of Covid-19 “hysteria” but he later apologised and has since backed strict measures.
Police in Saxony said security forces including the special Soko Rex anti-extremist unit were raiding a number of locations, in response to the threats made against the state premier highlighted by a German TV documentary a week ago.
The plot against Mr Kretschmer was first exposed by the Frontal programme whose journalists had infiltrated a group of some 100 people communicating via the Telegram messaging app.
Calling themselves Dresden Online Networking, members would discuss ideas and even meet up in parks, public broadcaster ZDF reported. The programme monitored one conversation in which one man spoke of being armed and ready.
Police said statements had been made on plans to kill the state premier as well as other state representatives. The revelations prompted an outcry in Germany. Mr Kretschmer said all legal means should be used against such threats.
“People in public office should have no fear of speaking their mind and doing their job,” he said. Mr Kretschmer, a member of the centre-right Christian Democrats who were in government nationally until last week, was initially hostile to tight Covid-19 restrictions.
But since Saxony became one of the German states hit hardest by coronavirus he has changed his mind.
Saxony has the lowest vaccination rate in Germany, with 61.9% having had a first dose and the second highest incidence rate of infection. Only neighbouring Thuringia has a higher rate of cases.
Mr Kretschmer spoke this week of a race against time to get vaccinated.
Last week Germany’s new government steered through a draft law to require all health workers and soldiers to get vaccinated by next spring, and Chancellor Olaf Scholz has backed mandatory vaccines for all adults early in 2022.
There have been several protests in Germany against tighter restrictions. On Monday night some 3,500 people demonstrated in the eastern city of Magdeburg, chanting “peace, freedom, no dictatorship”.
Telegram has come under fire in Germany for enabling Covid-19 conspiracy theorists to spread and plan protests against stricter measures, On Tuesday, a senior official in the northern German state of Lower Saxony said the messaging app should be removed from Apple and Google stores if it refused to help tackle extremist content.