German defense minister under fire over far-right soldier

AP News
Posted: May 03, 2017 9:49 AM
German defense minister under fire over far-right soldier

BERLIN (AP) — The arrest of a soldier suspected of plotting a far-right attack is putting fresh pressure on Germany's defense minister, already under fire over a series of abuse cases within the country's armed forces.

Canceling a planned trip to the United States, Ursula von der Leyen dashed to the French town of Illkirch on Wednesday to visit the barracks where the 28-year-old army lieutenant had been stationed as part of a Franco-German brigade until his arrest last week.

The officer, identified only as Franco A. due to German privacy laws, allegedly planned to commit an act of violence and had previously come to the attention of superiors for expressing far-right views in a 2014 university thesis, but was let off with a warning.

A.'s opinions were "very drastic, very strongly worded," said Defense Ministry spokesman Boris Nannt, adding that it had been a "mistake" to issue a only warning without escalating the incident.

"If you look at that incident and put it into the context of today then it's surprising that the (German Military Intelligence) wasn't called," Nannt told reporters in Berlin.

The agency is currently probing 280 cases of suspected far-right extremism in the military, he said. The military, the Bundeswehr, has some 178,000 active duty personnel.

Von der Leyen planned to meet Thursday with the heads of Germany's armed forces to discuss the case as well as several separate investigations into hazing and sexual abuse within the military stretching back several years.

The case of lieutenant A. came to the attention of authorities after he was arrested in February for hiding a pistol in a Vienna airport bathroom. He was freed but Austrian authorities informed Germany, and a fingerprint match showed he had managed to register as a refugee and claimed financial aid.

Investigators suspect he was planning an attack and may have wanted to blame it on foreigners. A 24-year-old student from the soldier's hometown of Offenbach was also arrested in the case.

Government 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."