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Germany mulls army 'Islamist checks'

March 9, 2015

Germany's military has admitted it must act over findings that ex-Bundeswehr soldiers have served in the ranks of "Islamic State." Counter-intelligence suggests more than 20 are fighting for the militant Islamist group.

Symbolbild Bundeswehr
Image: AFP/Getty Images/T. Schwarz

Calls for so-called "Islamist checks" arose on Monday in response to a warning from the head of Germany's Military Counterintelligence Service, the MAD.

MAD chief Christof Gramm told German daily newspaper Die Welt that it was thought some 20 former Bundeswehr soldiers were fighting with the "Islamic State" (IS) militant group in Iraq and Syria.

Gramm noted that the killers who launched an attack on the Paris magazine Charlie Hebdo two months ago had military skills. He recommended that his organization carry out checks on applicants to the German military, to ensure that it could not be misused as a training camp for violent extremists.

"We're seeing the risk that the Bundeswehr can be misused as a training camp for violence-ready Islamists," Gramm told the newspaper on Sunday.

"We would like to see if there are future doubts about the loyalty of future soldiers," said Gramm. He added: "What if a Bundeswehr-trained Islamist did something and we hadn't noticed?"

The German Defense Ministry said on Monday that a discussion was needed about additional vetting of applicants.

"Each case is one too many," a ministry spokesman told the DPA news agency, referring to instances where soldiers have joined Islamist groups.

However, the ministry remained guarded about the MAD carrying security checks on every applicant. Stricter controls should be "legally permissible" and "manageable in practice," a spokesman told the AFP news agency.

Need for '360-degree radar'

The tally of candidates for some army posts could be between five and 10 times higher than the as the number of positions available, the Defense ministry said. In such situations, pre-screening was viewed as impractical.

While, in principal, the need to look for "extremist tendencies" was not disputed by the ministry, there was a need for "a 360-degree" radar that would look for evidence of far-right and far-left leanings, the ministry added.

There was sharp rejection of the idea from Germany's Social Democrats (SPD), the junior coalition partners in the Berlin government led by Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU).

The German military should be responsible for checks on soldiers already serving within its ranks, said the SPD's parliamentary spokesperson for defense, Rainer Arnold. However, he said, it would be a mistake to make the military pre-vet applicants before they even sign up.

The MAD is responsible for counterintelligence and detection of "anticonstitutional activities" within the Bundeswehr.

rc/jr (AFP, dpa)