FRANKFURT — One in every of postwar Germany’s most spectacular terrorism trials opened Thursday, with federal prosecutors laying out their case in opposition to a navy officer who they stated had been motivated by a “hardened far-right extremist mind-set” to plot political homicide within the hope of bringing down the nation’s democratic system.
The case of First Lieutenant Franco A., whose surname is abbreviated in step with German privateness legal guidelines, shocked Germany when he was arrested 4 years in the past and has since pushed the nation to confront a creeping risk of infiltration within the navy and the police by far-right extremists.
Franco A. was caught in 2017 making an attempt to gather a loaded gun he had hidden in an airport rest room. His fingerprints later revealed that he had a second — faux — identification as a Syrian refugee, setting off alarm bells and an investigation that may span three nations and a number of intelligence businesses. Prosecutors have accused him of planning terrorist assaults utilizing that identification with the intention of stoking rising fears over immigration in Germany and triggering a nationwide disaster.
The case has develop into the most recent warning for a rustic that has spent many years atoning for its Nazi previous however that additionally has a observe file of turning a blind eye to far-right extremism and terrorism.
On the primary day of the trial the temper within the courtroom was tense. Franco A., wearing a grey checkered shirt underneath a brown vest, his lengthy hair tied again, sat to the correct of the judges’ bench flanked by two attorneys. He regarded defiant, sometimes scribbling notes to a lawyer, as two prosecutors wearing burgundy robes and matching masks learn out a abstract of the indictment.
One of many prosecutors, Karin Weingast, described how in 2015, as tons of of hundreds of refugees had been arriving in Germany, Franco A. had fooled the authorities into believing that he was a type of migrants. Over the course of greater than a yr, he bought shelter and an asylum listening to, and certified for month-to-month advantages.
When he first disguised himself as a refugee in December 2015, he had “deliberate and already started getting ready” an assault underneath that faux identification, Ms. Weingast stated. For that goal, she stated, he had hoarded greater than 1,000 rounds of ammunition, 4 weapons and a few 50 explosives, a few of it stolen from navy bases the place he had been stationed.
And in his personal notes, she stated, he had recognized a number of potential targets, together with Claudia Roth, a vp of the German Parliament; Heiko Maas, the international minister; and Anetta Kahane, a Jewish antiracism activist and vocal defender of refugees.
Franco A., Ms. Weingast stated, had deliberate to assault not only one or a number of public figures — however democracy itself.
“With this assault, the accused wished to alter the political state of affairs within the Federal Republic of Germany according to his far-right extremist concepts,” Ms. Weingast stated.
Franco A. is the primary lively soldier in current reminiscence to face terrorism costs in Germany. He’s charged with plotting “a violent act endangering the state,” asylum fraud and unlawful possession of weapons and ammunition. If convicted, he may face 10 years in jail.
He denies all of the terrorism costs in opposition to him. However his elaborate double life, which lasted 16 months, unraveled after the police caught him making an attempt to gather the gun in a rest room on the Vienna airport, in response to the indictment and police stories.
Franco A. spoke solely briefly in court docket to verify his identification and tackle. However when he arrived and left the court docket by foot, with a leather-based satchel slung over his inexperienced coat, he stopped a number of occasions to talk to journalists.
“The indictment is a farce,” he stated, stopping in entrance of tv cameras ready for him on the courthouse entrance. “The prosecutor’s workplace is politically directed.”
That assertion seems to be the principle thrust of his protection. Franco A.’s attorneys responded to prosecutors with a gap assertion that characterised their consumer as a sufferer of a political “witch hunt” — and that accused Chancellor Angela Merkel of breaking the regulation and endangering nationwide safety by permitting over one million refugees into the nation.
For a full hour, they painted an image of a authorities that acted with out the consent of its voters and disregarded democracy. Franco A., they stated, was a soldier who had sworn an oath to guard his nation. He had posed as a refugee to blow the whistle on Ms. Merkel’s refugee insurance policies. His purpose was to not destroy democracy, however to strengthen it, they stated.
“My consumer dressed up as a refugee,” stated Moritz Fricke-Schmitt, considered one of Franco A.’s attorneys. “I’m unable to see something that endangers the state on this. However I can see how the state is endangered when elements of the federal government are making frequent trigger with individuals smugglers, and that’s what occurred.”
When Franco A., now 32, was first arrested, the navy searched military barracks throughout the nation for Nazi memorabilia. They discovered a lot.
However his case additionally opened the door to a maze of underground networks in any respect ranges of the nation’s safety businesses — a risk that these businesses themselves now acknowledge was far more extensive than they’d imagined.
One group, run by a former soldier and police sniper in northern Germany, hoarded weapons, kept enemy lists and ordered body bags, and is the topic of an ongoing terrorism investigation. One other, run by a special-forces soldier code-named Hannibal, put the spotlight on the KSK, Germany’s most elite power. Final yr, after explosives and SS memorabilia had been discovered on the property of a sergeant main, a whole KSK unit was disbanded by the protection minister.
In all these instances the authorities had did not determine extremists contained in the establishments, generally for years. Franco A. isn’t any exception. He acquired glowing stories from superiors all through his navy profession whilst he wrote and publicly spoke about his far-right views.
In 2014, after submitting a Grasp’s thesis riddled with far-right anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, he was requested to jot down one other one. However he was by no means reported although a navy historian who had been requested to evaluate the thesis known as it a “a radical nationalist, racist enchantment.”
Ms. Weingast, the prosecutor, described Franco A.’s views as stemming from a “longstanding hardened far-right extremist mind-set” that was notably hostile to Jews. Franco A., she stated, was satisfied that Zionists had been waging a “race battle” that may result in the extinction of the German race. He thought-about Germany to be underneath occupation by the US.
All this had motivated him to plan “a violent assault on life” that may “create a local weather of worry,” Ms. Weingast instructed the court docket.
“This was the intention of the accused,” she stated.
Based on the indictment, Franco A. had gone past summary plotting and in July 2016 had traveled to Berlin to go to the office of considered one of his alleged targets, Ms. Kahane, the Jewish activist. He drew a sketch of the situation of her workplace and took a number of footage of the license plates of vehicles within the parking storage.
Franco A.’s lawyer, Mr. Fricke-Schmitt, dismissed any suggestion that his consumer had a far-right mind-set. “He’s concerned about rowing,” he stated. “He listens to punk music.”
However Franco A. saved a file of his far-right concepts in a diary and a sequence of audio memos on his cellphone. The New York Instances has a transcript of those audio memos.
In them he praises Adolf Hitler, indulges in international Jewish conspiracies, argues that immigration has destroyed Germany’s ethnic purity, hails Russian President Vladimir V. Putin as a job mannequin and advocates destroying the state.