FRANKFURT — One of postwar Germany’s most spectacular terrorism trials opened Thursday, with federal prosecutors laying out their case against a military officer who they said had been motivated by a “hardened far-right extremist mind-set” to plot political murder in the hope of bringing down the country’s democratic system.
The case of First Lieutenant Franco A., whose surname is abbreviated in keeping with German privacy laws, shocked Germany when he was arrested four years ago and has since pushed the country to confront a creeping threat of infiltration in the military and the police by far-right extremists.
Franco A. was caught in 2017 trying to collect a loaded gun he had hidden in an airport bathroom. His fingerprints later revealed that he had a second — fake — identity as a Syrian refugee, setting off alarm bells and an investigation that would span three countries and multiple intelligence agencies. Prosecutors have accused him of planning terrorist attacks using that identity with the intention of stoking growing fears over immigration in Germany and triggering a national crisis.
The case has become the latest warning for a country that has spent decades atoning for its Nazi past but that also has a track record of turning a blind eye to far-right extremism and terrorism.
far more extensive than they had 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 subject of an ongoing terrorism investigation. Another, run by a special-forces soldier code-named Hannibal, put the spotlight on the KSK, Germany’s most elite force. Last year, after explosives and SS memorabilia were found on the property of a sergeant major, an entire KSK unit was disbanded by the defense minister.
In all these cases the authorities had failed to identify extremists inside the institutions, sometimes for years. Franco A. is no exception. He received glowing reports from superiors throughout his military career even as he wrote and publicly spoke about his far-right views.