A Bundeswehr soldier is suspected of terrorism: how could he be recognized as a "Syrian" even though he spoke no Arabic?
The Bundestag’s defense commissioner, Hans-Peter Bartels, SPD, said this did not reflect well on the Bundeswehr Photo: dpa
Even the day after, the case is causing head-scratching and partial perplexity: Bundeswehr officer Franco A. registered as a refugee in December 2015 in Giessen under the fictitious name David Benjamin – supposedly a Christian greengrocer from Damascus. In Zirndorf, Bavaria, he is recognized as an asylum seeker and has since been receiving social benefits, in addition to his pay as a federal army lieutenant.
Franco A.’s cover was blown only after he deposited a loaded firearm in a toilet at Vienna airport in February of this year, which Austrian police were able to confiscate. On Wednesday, Franco A., alias David Benjamin, was arrested in Hammelburg, Franconia, on suspicion of planning a terrorist attack.
From the intercepted communications of the suspect, the prosecution suspects xenophobic motives. A planned attack was apparently intended to look as if it had been committed by refugees. A 24-year-old student from Friedberg was also arrested as an accomplice. Police found ammunition on him.
The question of how a German soldier, who does not speak Arabic but does speak French, could be recognized as a Syrian asylum seeker has occupied politicians and authorities ever since. According to the government of Middle Franconia, Franco A. had stated at his hearing that he had grown up in a French colony in Damascus and therefore had only a poor command of Arabic. In Berlin, the spokesman for the Federal Minister of the Interior announced that the ministry and the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) would now "turn over every stone to find out how this could have happened". If there were deficiencies, they would have to be remedied.
The arrested German army officer had been heard and recognized by the BAMF in November 2016 and thus not in the time of the great wave of refugees with an overload of authorities, he said. "It appears that established and mandatory security precautions, of which all parties involved must be aware, were not followed," the spokesman said.
Apartments and offices of the Bundeswehr searched
Regarding the demand of the Bavarian Interior Minister, Joachim Herrmann (CSU), to now review all asylum decisions again, he said there was no legal basis for a "review of all asylum decisions without any reason."
Both suspects have so far remained silent about their motives. The detained student had only testified that he had received the confiscated ammunition from the Bundeswehr soldier, said on Friday the spokeswoman of the public prosecutor’s office in Frankfurt am Main, Nadja Niesen. She admitted to the taz that the accusation of preparing a serious crime endangering the state is so far based only on suspicions. "It is a suspicion."
The German army officer was only heard and recognized as a "Syrian" by the Federal Office in November 2016
The violations of weapons law and the accusation of fraud for the unauthorized receipt of social benefits, on the other hand, are considered proven. The German Bundestag’s defense commissioner, Hans-Peter Bartels, SPD, said this "obscure case" did not cast a good light on the Bundeswehr. There is obviously xenophobia in its ranks as well, he said.
Herrmann said the case was "macabre evidence that at times asylum seekers were recognized without serious identity checks." The interior policy spokesman for the Greens in the Hessian state parliament, Jurgen Frommrich, told the site: "There are obviously people on the move who say we’ll do something and blame it on the refugees. That is infamous."
Ninety police officers from the Federal Criminal Police Office, the Hessian and Bavarian police, as well as Austrian and French security authorities had searched 16 apartments and offices of the Bundeswehr in Germany, Austria and France. The case was puzzling, Wiesbaden criminal psychologist Rudolf Egg told the Deutsche Presse-Agentur. The 28-year-old lieutenant had, after all, made a "huge effort" with the asylum procedure. "And that is yes also risky," Egg said. "That remains peculiar."