Europe

German soldier who posed as refugee on trial over planned attack

A German army soldier has been accused of plotting to kill prominent politicians while posing as a Syrian asylum-seeker.

Federal prosecutors say the suspect, named as 1st Lt. Franco A., acted out of far-right extremist views and tried to blame the attack on refugees.

The trial of the 32-year-old defendant began in Frankfurt”s regional court on Thursday. The suspect has denied that he planned to carry out any violent act.

Lawyer, Moritz Schmitt-Fricke, claimed that his client was the victim of a smear campaign and denied that he had far-right leanings, citing his interest in punk music as evidence.

The bizarre case has raised concerns about extremism in the country’s military.

The suspect was first arrested in February 2017 while retrieving a pistol he had stashed in a Vienna airport bathroom, before being released.

But German authorities launched an investigation on his return from Austria when the soldier’s fingerprint matched one registered as an asylum-seeker.

The suspect had stockpiled four firearms including an assault rifle, more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition, and more than 50 explosive devices, prosecutors said. It is alleged that he had stolen some weapons from military stores.

Prosecutors allege that the man’s targets included then-Justice Minister Heiko Maas and the Jewish head of an anti-racism organisation.

He stands accused of “a serious act of violence that endangers the security of the state”, as well as fraud and illegally possessing weapons and explosives.

The man, who was stationed as a soldier in the Franco-German base of Illkirch in eastern France, faces up to ten years in prison if convicted. The trial is due to run until August.

Germany’s former Defense Minister, Ursula von der Leyen, now President of the European Commission, took a hard line against the Bundeswehr over right-wing extremist tendencies in the German army.

In June 2020, an elite army commando unit was partly disbanded because some twenty of its members were suspected of belonging to the neo-Nazi movement.

The case has also exposed the struggles of Germany’s immigration system to cope with the influx of more than one million asylum seekers during the refugee crisis of 2015 and 2016.

Franco A. had allegedly managed to file an asylum application under an assumed name in 2015, while disguised and speaking only basic English.

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