Soldier held over suspected far-right plot
The arrest of a junior German army officer suspected of plotting a far-right attack disguised as an asylum seeker has put the defence minister under pressure after a series of abuse cases within the military.
Cancelling a US trip, Ursula von der Leyen visited the French town of Illkirch to inspect the barracks where a lieutenant had been stationed in a joint brigade with France until his arrest last week.
The officer, identified only as Franco A, 28, under Germany’s privacy laws, allegedly planned to commit a violent attack. He had previously come to the attention of his commanders for expressing extreme-right views in a 2014 university thesis, but was let off with a warning.
“I bear the entire responsibility for everything that happens in the Bundeswehr,” von der Leyen said.
“That includes foreign deployments from Afghanistan to Iraq and Mali. That includes reforms in the nature of our weaponry and turnarounds in finances and personnel. My responsibility is to remedy proven abuses, which I am currently doing.”
The subaltern’s opinions were “very drastic, very strongly worded”, said Defence Ministry spokesman Boris Nannt, adding that it had been a “mistake” to only initially issue a warning.
“If you look at that incident and put it into the context of today then it’s surprising that the [military intelligence] wasn’t called,” Nannt told the media in Berlin.
The agency is currently probing 280 cases of suspected right-wing extremism in the Bundeswehr, which has around 178,000 regular personnel.
Von der Leyen met with chiefs to discuss the case as well as several investigations into bullying and sexual abuse stretching back several years.
She has faced criticism after she told broadcaster ZDF on Sunday that “the German army has an attitude problem, and it has apparently weak leadership at different levels”.
The lieutenant was arrested in February for hiding a handgun in a Vienna airport bathroom. He was freed but Vienna informed the German authorities. A fingerprint match showed he was registered as a refugee and had claimed financial aid.
It was suspected that he was planning an attack and may have wanted to blame it on foreigners. A student, 24, from the officer’s hometown of Offenbach was also arrested.
Federal spokesman Steffen Seibert said von der Leyen had “the full support of the chancellor and the entire German government to investigate all aspects of the Franco A case insofar as they concern the Bundeswehr”.
Picture credit: Flickr