Six British children, who are all under five years of age, have been rescued from an abandoned wine cellar in Austria that was being used as an illegal hideout by a conspiracy theorist. The kids were discovered in the hideout located in the small village of Obritz. It came after police broke in following an incident involving a 54-year-old man who allegedly attacked social services with pepper spray after they were called to the property following concerns from locals.
According to a statement from the police, the man attacked two social workers with pepper spray on Thursday at around 3pm. The six children, whose ages range from seven months to five years old, were thought to have been kept in the cellar of the abandoned house for several months.
Social services reportedly got involved after local residents raised the alarm within the last few weeks after hearing children’s voices coming from the property that had been sold to an English company.
Following the man’s attack on the youth welfare officers, he reportedly barricaded himself in the building. The police arrived at the scene after being called. The police arrested the man, but he was released on Thursday evening after prosecutors said that he posed no risk to the children. However, he remains under investigation.
Upon entering the cellars of the property, the police found the six children along with multiple guns in the cellar. The building had been renovated to have doors, windows, water, electricity and surveillance cameras.
However, the cellars reportedly had ‘inadequate sanitation’, deeming them “not suitable for children”. It is unclear how long the 54-year-old lived there with his 40-year-old wife and six children, according to the police.
Deputy mayor Erich Grail told local media: “The surveillance cameras in front of the cellar were particularly annoying, and residents sometimes heard children’s voices in the basement, and as soon as they approached it was quiet.
Mr Grail said the man, whom he thought to be “normal” and “clever”, had bought up to five cellars in the village. But he added: “He once told me he has ten children and he wants a cellar for each child. The contracts are up to the municipality. However, the cellars may not be used for residential purposes.”
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According to Hollabrunn District Governor Karl-Josef Weiss, the children were not locked up or neglected. Police sources have said there was no indication of any sexual abuse.
The children were later examined at the hospital in the presence of their mother. It came after they were then taken into care following their discovery as it was difficult to prove who they were.
This is because, according to the parents, the children were born in England. Births in Austria are registered by law with the authorities, and there were no records for the children. However, it is unclear whether they have British citizenship or not, making it difficult to establish their identity.
The man who was arrested is Austrian but works in Britain and reportedly belongs to ‘Reichsbürger’. This is a group of right-wing extremists who think that the German empire still exists as it did before the Second World War, and are under the impression that the current German state is simply an administrative construct.
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Last year, Reichsburgers were arrested in Germany after plotting a far-fetched coup to reinstate the German monarchy.
The case has brought back the horrific memories of Joseph Fritzl, who kept his daughter Elisabeth Fritzl hostage in his basement for 24 years.
He was sentenced to life imprisonment after pleading guilty to rape, false imprisonment, manslaughter by negligence, and incest.