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Officer-refugee made a hit list?

April 30, 2017

A Bundeswehr lieutenant had a Left party Berlin lawmaker on his alleged list of intended targets, German media reported. Riddles remain as to how the soldier received refugee status using a Syrian alias.

Frankreich  Illkirch-Graffenstaden Bundeswehr Soldaten vom Jägerbataillon 291
Image: Getty Images/AFP/F. Florin

Anne Helm, a Left member in Berlin's city-state assembly and strident critic of Germany's far-right, tweeted that Berlin's police investigations office had told her that she had been on an alleged hit list compiled by the arrested officer.

The 28-year-old lieutenant, identified only as Franco A. under Germany's privacy laws, was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of planning attacks on foreigners after a tip-off from Austrian police and a matching of fingerprints.

Berlin Anne Helm Abgeordnete der Linken
Anne Helm, Berlin city representativeImage: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Gambarini

Germany's Interior and Defense ministers on Saturday promised quick and full probes into why the man, officially stationed with a Franco-German brigade in Alsace, France, persuaded the Nuremberg-based Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) that he was a French-speaking refugee from war-torn, multi-ethnic Syria.

His asylum application - lodged at the height of the 2015-early-2016 refugee influx into Germany - resulted last December in him being granted partial asylum status as a war refugee under the alias of "David Benjamin," a fruit seller from Damascus.

Clarification demanded

On Friday, the Bundestag committee that oversees the country's intelligence agencies was briefed by MAD, the Bundeswehr's counterintelligence agency. Lawmakers demanded clarification about intentions of the officer, who reportedly wrote a Master's thesis on subversion in 2014 at a French elite university.

On Sunday, German Defense Minister Ursula conceded on "Berlin direkt," a broadcast of public ZDF television, that the Bundeswehr had problems of attitude and not forwarding information. 

"What cannot be accepted is political extremism or religiously motivated extremism," she said.

Threat level worse, says Helm

Helm, 30, who serves on Berlin city's committee that oversees policing, information freedoms and data privacy and represents its alternative scene district Neukölln, said she had often received threats from extremist far-right circles.

Her name's inclusion on the list raised the likelihood, however, that "such threats will be turned into action," Helm told Berlin's "Tagesspiegel' newspaper.

More inconsistencies

Further inconsistencies surrounding Franco A. had been found in his asylum file, according to a report Sunday in the "Nürnberger Nachrichten" newspaper.

While his asylum application was being processed, he was assigned last year to accommodation in the town of Baustarring, about 56 kilometers (34 miles) northeast of Munich, near its outlying airport.

But he was seldom present at the refugee accommodation. A remark in the file stated "often away," the paper reported.  And his summons to an asylum-application hearing was initially sent back from Baustarring, with the annotation "Mr. Benjamin" was not known.

Medical check overlooked?

His claim that he had fled Syria after being wounded by grenade shrapnel during an attack by the "Islamic State" militia never resulted in a BAMF medical check after his arrival in Germany to confirm the injury, the newspaper added.

Franco A. had gained partial asylum status as a war refugee and not on the grounds that he been persecuted.

BAMF, which on Saturday was the focus of criticism, could not be reached for comment on Sunday, said the German news agency DPA.

Hans-Peter Bartels Wehrbeauftragter des Deutschen Bundestages
Don't generalize based on one case, Bartels urgedImage: picture-alliance/dpa/R. Jensen


The federal parliamentary commissioner for the Bundeswehr, Hans-Peter Bartels of the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), said right-wing extremist attitudes were incompatible under Germany's liberal constitution with service in the country's military.

Bartels told the "Welt am Sonntag" newspaper that extremists were nevertheless attracted to military service because of the Bundeswehr's "hierarchies, weapons and uniforms."

But he cautioned the German public against generalizing from one case among its 173,000 service personnel.

"The present-day Bundeswehr is [demographically] older, more professional and more family-oriented than the once large [Cold War] military-service army with its 500,000 soldiers," Bartels said. 

From July, all new recruits will be subject to security vetting, he added. "In this way already conspicuous Nazis and Islamists can be weeded out," he said.

Media reports this week, however, showed that Franco A. had passed two security checks conducted by Germany's Military Counterintelligence Service (MAD).

Extent trivialized, says Left

Opposition Left party's defense spokesperson Christine Buchholz said: "There is an unmistakable problem with right-wing extremists in the Bundeswehr."

Far-right acts were often portrayed as the works of individuals while possible involvement in networks and organizations of the far-right were trivialized, Buchholz added.

ipj/sms (AFP, dpa)