German government investigating how serving soldier registered as Syrian refugee for 'false flag' attack plot

Franco A led a double life while allegedly planning act of 'xenophobic' violence

Lizzie Dearden
Friday 28 April 2017 17:41 BST
Franco A apparently raised no suspicions while continuing his post at Illkirch-Graffenstaden barracks
Franco A apparently raised no suspicions while continuing his post at Illkirch-Graffenstaden barracks (AFP)

The German government says it is “leaving no stone unturned” in a probe into how a soldier falsely registered as a Syrian refugee for an alleged terror plot.

Franco A led a double life for more than a year, remaining in his post as a Bundeswehr lieutenant while receiving state benefits under a fabricated identity as a supposed asylum seeker.

Joachim Herrmann, the Bavarian interior minister, said the astonishing case provided “grim proof” that migrants had been registered in Germany “without proper examination of their identity”.

“Investigators must clearly and carefully examine how a Bundeswehr soldier could have his application as a Syrian asylum seeker recognised,” he added.

The German interior ministry said every effort would be made to discover how the migration ministry was duped, admitting that Franco A’s application came at a time of “particular strain”.

“On the basis of an interview he was offered subsidiary protection – that decision was wrong,” a spokesperson said.

“The [relevant ministries] will leave no stone unturned until we know how this happened and, if there are shortcomings, put a stop to them.”

Police chief says Germany 'on high alert' after attack

The interior ministry said it had imposed enhanced security on asylum applicants, taking every person’s fingerprints – which are cross-referenced with criminal databases - while carrying out individual interviews.

A spokesperson claimed that “structural flaws” were not the problem, blaming the case on staff failing to follow protocol and insisting there was no reason for “needless review of all asylum seekers”.

The probe was triggered after Franco A stashed an unregistered 7.65mm pistol in a toilet at Vienna International Airport while attending a military ball there in January.

Austrian police detained him when he attempted to retrieve the loaded gun on 3 February, running fingerprints that revealed his identity as a refugee in Germany – triggering the investigation that would expose the extraordinary plot.

Franco A created a fake persona under the name David Benjamin, telling immigration officials he was from a Christian family with French roots, German media reported.

A German soldier holds a machine gun MG4 during the 'Land Operations' military exercises during a media day at the Bundeswehr training grounds on October 14, 2016 near Bergen, Germany. The exercises are taking place from October 4-14. (Getty Images)

No doubts appear to have been raised over the credibility of the 28-year-old’s claimed background, despite him speaking mainly French with a smattering of Arabic from a language course.

Franco A registered in Giessen, Hesse, on 30 December 2015 – as Germany was overwhelmed by the arrival of almost a million asylum seekers - then submitted an asylum application at Zirndorf in Bavaria in January last year.

“As a result, he was given shelter in a refugee home and has received monthly financial benefits under this false identity,” the Frankfurt prosecutor’s office said.

“These findings, as well as other evidence, point towards a xenophobic motive for the soldier’s suspected plan to commit an attack using a weapon deposited at Vienna airport.”

Officials did not give any further details but Die Welt reported Franco A had repeatedly attacked Arab asylum seekers and Muslims in an online chat.

If his plan had succeeded, his fingerprints would have registered on the refugee records system and led investigators to his false identity as a Syrian asylum seeker, turning fresh scrutiny on migrants in Germany.

But it fell apart when Franco A failed to answer a court summons in Austria, sparking a wider investigation into “David Benjamin” that swiftly exposed the artifice.

According to Der Spiegel, the suspect was regarded as “cosmopolitan and popular” among his friends and was an enthusiastic pupil who once dreamed of becoming a journalist, before studying at the prestigious Saint-Cyr French military academy.

The German ministry of defence said Franco A had been in the army for eight years and was stationed at Illkirch-Graffenstaden in France, where he did not raise an alert over right-wing extremism.

He appeared at the barracks on time and completed all courses even while dashing back to Bavaria to pick up monthly welfare payments.

Franco A was still serving when he was finally arrested, being pulled out of a hole in the ground by police during a training exercise in Hammelburg on Wednesday.

His suspected accomplice, a 24-year-old student, was arrested for alleged involvement in the plot.

He and Franco A both come from Offenbach, near Frankfurt, and allegedly shared anti-migrant news articles and text messages.

Police have searched the homes of the two suspects as well as their friends and workplaces, with detectives seizing “extensive material” including mobile phones, laptops and documents.

Both men remain in custody in Frankfurt as the probe continues into the second "false flag" plot exposed in Germany within weeks, following revelations a trader bombed Borussia Dortmund football team to profit from crashing share prices.

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