Pandemic hits ‘critical point’ as Europe deaths top one million

Pandemic hits ‘critical point’ as Europe deaths top one million
Pandemic hits ‘critical point’ as Europe deaths top one million

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - LONDON: At least 20 German police officers are suspected of stealing service-issue pistol, submachine gun and sniper rifle ammunition and giving it to a shooting range linked to a far-right extremist group.

Nordkreuz, the group at the center of the investigation, was stockpiling weaponry, ammunition and other supplies in the belief that Germany would collapse into civil war amid an armed Muslim uprising.

Its 50 or so members, thought to include army and police officers, had planned to exploit the chaos of civil war by seizing power through a military coup using weapons stashed in “safe houses” across the country, according to messages sent on an encrypted messaging app.

A police raid on one of the group’s founders, a police officer known as Marko G, 50, uncovered 55,000 cartridges for various weapons.

That stash included 90 sniper rifle bullets believed to have been stolen from a special forces armory in the south-eastern state of Bavaria.

In a separate raid on other Nordkreuz members, authorities found 7,000 more cartridges for various weapons stolen from a Saxony armory.

Prosecutors say the ammunition was handed to the Baltic Shooters range in the town of Gustrow, in the northeast of the country, in exchange for unauthorized firearms lessons.

Seventeen officers from the police special forces unit in Saxony, and at least three from its Bavarian counterpart, are under investigation.

Petric Kleine, president of Saxony’s state police force, said: “These allegations feel like a slap in the face for my agency. I’m furious and disappointed that a whole special operations unit not only deliberately ignored their orders, but that some of them abused our trust for their criminal activities.”

The Gustrow shooting range is said to have been used as a hub for Nordkreuz. Marko G periodically worked there as a firearms instructor, and was given a 21-month suspended sentence for violating weapon laws.

The investigation into Nordkreuz has also drawn in one of Germany’s top competitive shooters.

Frank Thiel, a 42-time national shooting champion across various events, ran classes at Baltic Shooters and has provided officially sanctioned training to elite police and army special operations units from Germany and across the world. One shooting magazine described him as a mentor to the “crème de la crème of elite units.”

Thiel was briefly a member of Nordkreuz but denied any extremist leanings. He was added to a Nordkreuz chat group in 2015, but left after a month after realizing that “the group is moving in a direction that isn’t mine.” Thiel is currently being treated as a witness, not a suspect, in the Nordkreuz investigation.

Germany has worked to counter the growing influence of the country’s far and extreme right. A 2019 report by the Interior Ministry warned of an estimated 24,000 far-right extremists in the country, nearly 13,000 of them inclined toward violence.

In October 2019, a right-wing terrorist shot dead two people near a synagogue in the city of Halle, and in February 2020, a neo-Nazi committed two mass shootings at shisha bars in the town of Hanau, killing nine people, all of whom had an immigrant background.

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