BERLIN -- German police launched a series of raids early on Wednesday across the country against a group of climate activists known for attacking art and gluing themselves to roads to raise awareness.
The searches targeted 15 properties across seven states, linked to members of the "Letzte Generation" (Last Generation) group. Seven suspects aged between 22 and 38 years are being investigated on suspicion of forming or supporting a criminal organization, police said.
The suspects are accused of organizing a fundraising campaign to finance criminal activities, advertising them on their website and collecting at least $1.5 million in donations so far.
"These funds were, according to current information, mostly used for the committing of further criminal action of the association," police said without specifying the nature of the "criminal action."
Last Generation, which has been condemned by Germany's environmental Greens Party, gained prominence last year with a wave of food-related climate protests -- including throwing mashed potatoes at a Monet painting in Potsdam's Museum Barberini. Activists have also glued themselves to roads, and even runways to disrupt traffic.
The protests aim to draw more attention to climate change through acts of civil disobedience.
Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck from the Green Party, which is in the ruling coalition, has described their tactics as "unhelpful" and "downright wrong," while Chancellor Olaf Scholz this week said the group's methods are "bonkers."
German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser told German media outlets that legitimate protest ends when crimes are committed and other people's rights would be violated. "If this red line is overstepped, then the police must also act."
Two of the suspects arrested Wednesday are accused of planning to sabotage an oil pipeline between the Bavarian town of Ingolstadt and the Italian port of Trieste. The pipeline is deemed a critical piece of infrastructure in the southern German state. Prosecutors also confiscated accounts and secured assets during the raids and the group's website was shut down.
According to the prosecution, the proceedings were initiated "due to numerous criminal complaints from the population that have been received since mid-2022."
In a news conference held by climate activists on Wednesday, Aimée van Baalen, a spokeswoman said the group will "continue to resist."
"The need to resist is not diminished by criminalization," she said, adding that as long as the federal government flouts the law, activists will continue to exercise their right to peacefully protest.
Last Generation says it wants the government to submit a detailed plan on how Germany can meet a target of limiting temperature increases to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit above preindustrial levels.
Germany's capital, Berlin, where the city's justice minister is deciding whether the Last Generation is a "criminal organization," has become a particular focus in recent months, with the group saying they want to "bring Berlin to a standstill."
Scenes of irate motorists using violence against sitting protesters have become a daily occurrence. Those who have glued themselves to the tarmac often have to be dug out by police using drills.
The Last Generation's disruptive tactics have sparked debate in Germany about the efficacy of such protests in the fight against climate change. Dozens of activists have been brought before the courts in recent weeks due to the traffic blockades. Many received fines, while others have been sentenced to prison for up to five months.
Information for this article was contributed by Karla Adam of The Washington Post.