1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Cologne hostage-taker was 'slated for deportation'

Rebecca Staudenmaier
October 19, 2018

The Syrian suspect behind the hostage situation at Cologne's central train station was reportedly due to be deported in 2015. German authorities have been accused of dropping the ball.

Police teams deal respond to a hostage situation at Cologne's main train station
Image: picture-alliance/Geisler-Fotopress/C. Hardt

The Syrian asylum-seeker who is accused of staging an attack at Cologne's central train station this week could have been deported years ago, according to media reports on Friday.

The case bears similarities to that of Anis Amri, the Tunisian rejected asylum-seeker who carried out a truck attack at a Berlin Christmas market in 2016. Should the reports be confirmed, it could also reignite the debate in Germany over asylum policy and deportations.

What the reports say:

  • The suspect, identified as Mohammad A.R., could have been deported to the Czech Republic in 2015 since he first applied for asylum there before traveling to Germany, according to information obtained by German newspaper Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger and Focus magazine.
  • Under the European Union's Dublin Regulation, asylum-seekers must be processed at their point of entry into the bloc. Under those rules, German authorities should have sent him back.
  • However, Germany's Federal Office of Migration and Refugees (BAMF) missed a deadline to deport him back to the Czech Republic, according to the reports.
  • Since he wasn't deported, the BAMF then took over his case, granting him permission to stay in Germany until at least 2021.

What happened during the Cologne attack? On Monday, panic was sparked after a man started a fire at a fast-food restaurant in Cologne's main train station. A 14-year-old girl sustained serious burns while a second person was treated for smoke inhalation. The suspect then ran out of the restaurant and entered a nearby pharmacy where he took a female employee hostage. After two hours, police stormed the pharmacy and shot the suspect several times. The hostage was injured but later released from the hospital.

Possible Islamist motive: Mohammad A.R. sustained serious injuries during the police operation and is currently still in a coma. He's been charged with attempted murder and serious bodily harm. Federal prosecutors said on Wednesday that there were enough indications to suggest that there was a "radical Islamist" motive behind the attack, although investigations are still ongoing. 

What we know about the suspect:

Mohammad A.R. is a 55-year-old Syrian man who entered the European Union in early 2015 when he arrived in the Czech Republic. According to Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger, he first filed an asylum application in Prague before later traveling further to Germany. In mid-March that year, he filed once again for asylum, but this time in Germany.

His case was eventually taken over by German authorities and he has been living in Cologne since July 2015.

Although witnesses reported that Mohammad A.R. said he was a member of the militant "Islamic State" (IS) group, police found little to link him to the group during a raid at the man's residence. According to police, the 55-year-old was unemployed and had a history of mental health issues.

Parallels to Berlin attack: Like Mohammad A.R., German authorities also failed to deport the suspect behind the 2016 Berlin terror attack, which killed 12 people. Anis Amri's asylum application had been rejected months before he carried out the Christmas market attack, but German authorities were initially unable to deport him and slow to react in order to secure alternative documents to ensure he would be deported.

Each evening at 1830 UTC, DW's editors send out a selection of the day's hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here.

Police end hostage standoff in Cologne: DW's David Martin reports