Austrian police said Monday they arrested a 54-year-old man after he attacked two social workers with pepper spray when they found him living illegally in a private wine cellar in northeastern Austria with a woman and six young children.
Police in the Austrian province of Lower Austria were still trying to determine the identity of six children, who were from 7 months to 5 years old.
Neighbors in Obritz, a small town near the Czech border, alerted local authorities last week that there was a family living illegally in a local wine cellar.
“Residents sometimes heard children’s voices in the basement,” the town’s vice-mayor, Erich Greil, told the Austrian broadcaster ORF. “As soon as (local residents) approached, it went quiet.”
When two social workers arrived last Thursday to check on the children, police said the man attacked them with pepper spray and barricaded the door to the cellar.
The social workers called the police, who arrived on the scene and arrested the man. When police searched the cellar, they found a 40-year-old woman and the six children, believed to be the man’s partner and children.
Police also found several weapons, including a gun, crossbows and compressed air weapons.
According to police, the man said the children were born in England. Police said they were not officially registered in Austria and that they were working to confirm the children’s identities.
The children were taken to a nearby hospital and had not been neglected or harmed, the police spokesman said. They are now in custody of social services.
Authorities did not name the man who was arrested but the Evening Standard identified him as a former IT worker from London. The news outlet reported that the wine cellar was equipped with water and power supplies but was “deemed unsuitable for human habitation.”
Local media reported that the man is a follower of the so-called Reichsbuerger, or Reich Citizens, movement. The right-wing extremist conspiracy group believes the partition of Germany by Allied powers after World War II and the subsequent democratic states that followed were illegal, arguing instead that the original Reich still exists.
A spokesman for the Lower Austrian police would not confirm the man’s reported affiliation with the Reich Citizens.
Last month, police in Germany arrested more than two dozen people linked to the group, accusing them of a right-wing extremist plot to overthrow Germany’s government.