LJUBLJANA, Slovenia (AP) — Slovenian police on Thursday arrested two people for paramilitary activity after video footage and photos surfaced on social media of a group of armed, masked men led by a right-wing former presidential candidate.
Police said that around 40 criminal investigators searched five houses in the northeastern area around the town of Maribor in the Stajerska region where the group was filmed.
The video showing several dozen masked men training in a field in military-like outfits and holding axes and rifles has drawn widespread condemnation in the small European Union nation.
Robert Munda, head of the Maribor criminal police department, said at a news conference on Thursday that a total of 58 people participated in the Sept. 1 event near the village of Janhova, near the Austrian border.
Most Read Nation & World Stories
- As thousands of athletes get coronavirus tests, nurses wonder: What about us?
- Disputing Trump, Barr says no widespread election fraud
- US probing potential bribery, lobbying scheme for pardon
- Sports on TV & radio: Local listings for Seattle games and events
- Why health officials are terrified of a pandemic Christmas
Munda added there is no indication that regular police or army members took part.
“One of the suspects said in the event that ‘this government had to be brought down, disabled,'” Munda said.
The suspects face charges of “inciting violent change of constitutional order” and illicit arms and drug trafficking. Munda said half a kilogram (1 pound) of cannabis was found during the search.
Police have not confirmed that nationalist politician Andrej Sisko was among the detained, as reported by the local media. Photos from the scene showed police escorting a smiling Sisko, but he was not handcuffed.
Sisko, who is known for his anti-immigrant stance, has said the armed men weren’t paramilitary militia but “free men” and guards of the Stajerska region.
Sisko won around 2 percent of the votes at last year’s presidential election. His United Slovenia Movement didn’t make it into parliament in June balloting.
Police said in their statement that some of the participants of the gathering were “misled by the organizers.” They urged all who took part to come forward.
Sisko also attended an anti-immigrant rally of about 200 people in southeastern Slovenia who protested against plans to open a migrant center in their area bordering Croatia.
Traditionally moderate Slovenia has seen a rise in right-wing sentiments recently amid a wider populist surge in central and eastern Europe. An anti-immigrant party won the most votes in the June 3 election, but it has been sidelined by left-leaning groups that are expected to form the next government.