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RACISM

German ex-soldier gets five and a half years for far-right plot

A German court on Friday sentenced a former soldier to five and a half years in prison for plotting a far-right attack on senior politicians while posing as a Syrian refugee.

Franco Albrecht
Franco Albrecht, 33, stands in the dock in the Frankfurt am Main court. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Boris Roessler

“The accused is guilty of planning a serious act of violence endangering the state,” presiding judge Christoph Koller said.

The long-delayed trial shone a spotlight on neo-Nazi sympathies in the ranks of the German military and the effectiveness of the security services in standing up to right-wing extremism — described by the interior minister as the biggest threat facing the country.

“It is the first time in post-war Germany that a member of the armed forces stands accused of planning a terrorist attack,” Annette Ramelsberger, veteran court reporter for the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, said ahead of the verdict.

Defendant Franco Albrecht, a 33-year-old father of three, had been in the dock before the regional superior court in the western city of Frankfurt since May 2021.

The Bundeswehr lieutenant was found to have cited cabinet ministers, MPs and a prominent Jewish human rights activist among his potential targets.

“He wanted to stage an attack with a major political impact,” prosecutor Karin Weingast said in closing arguments.

‘Attitude problem’

Albrecht, who has a full beard and wears his long hair tied in a ponytail, told the court he deceived authorities at the height of the 2015-16 migrant influx, in which more than one million asylum seekers entered Germany.

The soldier, the son of a German mother and an estranged Italian immigrant father, posed as a Christian fruit seller from Damascus called David Benjamin.

Albrecht darkened his skin with makeup to pose as a penniless refugee and hoodwinked immigration officials for 15 months, despite speaking no Arabic.

“Neither Arabic nor details about my story were necessary,” Albrecht testified, describing his conversations with immigration authorities.

READ ALSO: Germany stages country-wide raids against ‘neo-Nazi networks’

He was arrested in 2017 while trying to retrieve a Nazi-era pistol he had hidden in a toilet at Vienna’s international airport, and his fraud was discovered when his fingerprints matched two separate identities.

Soon after his arrest, then defence minister Ursula von der Leyen, now European Commission chief, said Albrecht’s case pointed to a much larger “attitude problem” in the German military.

Von der Leyen’s successor Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer ordered the partial dissolution of the KSK commando force in 2020 after revelations that some of its members harboured neo-Nazi sympathies.

‘Mein Kampf’

The court found that Albrecht planned to use both the pistol and other weapons and explosives he had taken from the German army in order to carry out an attack.

But prosecutors during the trial backed away for lack of evidence from an accusation that he plotted to use his false refugee identity to pin the crime on a Syrian.

Albrecht’s lawyers had called for a suspended sentence based solely on weapons law violations, while prosecutors demanded jail time of six years and three months.

Albrecht, who repeatedly expressed anti-Semitic, racist and hard nationalist views before the court during his trial, testified that then-chancellor Angela Merkel had failed to uphold the constitution by welcoming the refugees.

READ ALSO: Suspected neo-Nazi charged with plotting German ‘race war’

Investigations showed he owned a copy of Adolf Hitler’s book “Mein Kampf” and stated that immigration was a form of “genocide”.

Albrecht had been free on bail as his trial began but was taken back into custody in February of this year when he was found with Nazi memorabilia and further weapons in his possession, including five machetes under his mattress.

By Sarah Maria Brech with Deborah Cole in Berlin

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DISCRIMINATION

German vice-chancellor backs armband protest at World Cup

Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck counselled the German men's national team to wear the "OneLove" armband banned by FIFA as they prepare to face Japan at the World Cup on Wednesday.

German vice-chancellor backs armband protest at World Cup

“I suppose you have to wear the armband now. I would maybe take my chances,” Habeck told German public broadcaster ZDF on Tuesday evening.  “I would be interested to see what the referee does when someone with the armband comes over.”

The rainbow armbands had been viewed as a symbolic protest against laws in World Cup host Qatar, where homosexuality is illegal.

Captains of several European teams had planned to wear the symbol as part of a campaign for diversity during the tournament hosted by Qatar, but they have backed down over the threat of disciplinary action from FIFA, world football’s governing body.

The teams have however come under fire at home for failing to take a stronger stand against FIFA’s stance on the armbands.

READ ALSO: Germany turns rainbow-coloured in protest at UEFA stadium ban

Amid the criticism, national team director Oliver Bierhoff suggested that some action by the German players may be possible.

“We will see. This has preoccupied the players a lot,” he told public broadcaster ARD on Wednesday.

Interior Minister Nancy Faeser, who will attend the Germans’ opening game in the Qatari capital Doha, said FIFA’s ban was a “huge mistake”.

Not only players, but fans too should be allowed to show pro-LGBTQ symbols “openly”, she told reporters in Qatar Wednesday.

Security staff at the tournament have ordered spectators to remove items of clothing featuring rainbow logos.

Supporters should “make a decision for themselves” about whether they wanted to wear the symbols, Faeser said.

Meanwhile, Germany’s top-selling Bild daily also urged the German team to make a public stand for diversity.

In a commentary, it said the “courage trophy” can be won by those “who give this World Cup back its dignity”.

“A team that wears the ‘OneLove’ armband and that doesn’t simply cave in. A fan terrace that appears in rainbow colours, a sportsman who turns his national anthem in a song that honours both his country and freedom,” it said.

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