LJUBLJANA, Slovenia – 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 were searching 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.
Nationalist politician Andrej Sisko has said the armed men weren’t paramilitary militia, but “free men” and guards of the Stajerska region. Sisko is known for his anti-immigrant stance.
Local media say Sisko was arrested in Thursday’s raid, but police haven’t confirmed this. Photos from the scene showed police escorting a smiling Sisko, wearing a red baseball cap but no handcuffs.
The suspects face charges of “inciting violent change of constitutional order” and illicit arms and drug trafficking.
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 Sept. 1 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 from where migrants cross into Slovenia.
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.