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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Report finds Muslims in Germany face rampant bias

Muslims face rampant discrimination in German society warranting concerted action to combat hate and bias, an independent commission assigned by the government said in findings released Thursday.

Report finds Muslims in Germany face rampant bias

Calling Muslims “one of the most under-pressure minorities” in Germany, the panel presented recommendations to political leaders, police and educators as well as the media and entertainment sectors.

“Many of the 5.5 million Muslims in Germany experience marginalisation and discrimination in day-to-day life — up to and including hatred and violence.”

Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said after receiving the report.She pledged that the government “would intensively study the report’s findings and recommendations” and work to “fight discrimination and better
protect Muslims from exclusion”.

The 12-member commission cited data showing around every other German agreed with anti-Muslim statements, “providing a dangerous breeding ground” for extremist groups.

Even German-born Muslims were widely seen as “foreign” while Islam was often presented as a “backward religion” and women wearing traditional headscarves faced “particularly dramatic forms of hostility”.

In an analysis of popular culture, the report found that nearly 90 percent of films the panel watched presented a negative view of Muslims, often associating them with “terror attacks, wars and oppression of women”.

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It noted that the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, currently polling at around 20 percent nationally, had an explicitly anti-Muslim party platform.

The commission recommended the government create a task force to address bias against Muslims and a central clearinghouse to collect complaints.

Furthermore, training was needed at daycare centres and schools, police stations, government offices, media outlets and entertainment companies to combat the negative image of Muslims while textbooks and lesson plans should be overhauled.

It said that criminal statistics were beginning to show a more accurate picture of anti-Muslim attacks but acknowledged many went unreported.

Former interior minister Horst Seehofer launched the commission in 2020 after a far-right extremist killed 10 people and wounded five others in an anti-Muslim shooting spree in the central city of Hanau.

READ ALSO: Three years after Hanau: Does Germany still have a racism problem?

The attack shocked the country and prompted rights groups to sound the alarm about Islamophobic sentiment in Germany.

A separate report issued on Tuesday by a monitoring group found that anti-Semitic crimes in Germany remained at a high level with 2,480 cases reported in 2022, down one percent on the previous year.