German Army rocked by right-wing extremism revelations

To what extent is the German Army – the Bundeswehr – a home for far-right sentiments? This disconcerting question has dominated the German political debate since last week’s arrest of Franco A. Apparently motivated by far-right ideology, the 28-year-old Lieutenant is suspected of having planned attacks on politicians, civil society institutions, and Jewish and Muslim representatives while seeking to make it appear as if refugees were to be held responsible.

A far-right backstory

Franco A., who is a member of the Franco-German Brigade stationed in Illkirch in the French Alsace region, has a history of engagement with far-right ideas. The young man’s master’s thesis – submitted at the French elite military academy of Saint-Cyr in 2014 – was marked by an obvious adherence to right-wing extremist and racial ideologies.

His professors notified their German colleagues, whose evaluation of the thesis came to the same conclusions: an internal Bundeswehr document noted that the text was “not a work for an academic degree but rather a radical nationalist, racist call for action”.(( https://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article164193275/Die-voelkisch-rassistische-Masterarbeit-des-Franco-A.html ))

Nevertheless, his superiors still reached the conclusion that any doubts about the soldier’s fitness for service and about his politico-ideological convictions could be “excluded”. As a result, no further steps were taken and his disciplinary file remained unsullied.(( https://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article164193275/Die-voelkisch-rassistische-Masterarbeit-des-Franco-A.html ))

A second identity as a refugee

In light of Franco A.’s brinksmanship, the following events read like an adventure tale. In late 2015, he approached local authorities in Bavaria under the pseudonym ‘David Benjamin’ and, claiming that he was a green grocer from Damascus, sought asylum in Germany.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/bundeswehr-offizier-unter-terrorverdacht-das-bizarre-doppelleben-des-franco-a-a-1145166.html ))

Inexplicably enough, over the following months he managed to lead a double life by commuting back and forth between his refugee shelter in Bavaria and his barracks in Alsace. And even more remarkable is the fact that, although he spoke hardly any Arabic, he not only managed to demand legal protection in Germany – he also obtained it.

Whilst this casts an extremely bad light on the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF), Franco A. prepared meticulously for his role by questioning fellow soldiers who had helped out at the Office at the height of the so-called refugee crisis in late 2015 and early 2016. In this way, he appears to have obtained valuable insider information on the conduct of asylum procedures and hearings.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/franco-a-soll-bundeswehr-kollegen-vor-asylantrag-ausgefragt-haben-a-1146248.html ))

Run-in with the police at Vienna Airport

Subsequently, Franco A. – together with an accomplice who has also been arrested but whose role remains unclear – began collecting weapons and ammunition. He had hidden an old pistol in the cleaning shaft of the toilet facilities of Vienna’s international airport. The weapon was discovered; and A. was briefly detained when attempting to recuperate it in February 2017.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/bundeswehr-offizier-unter-terrorverdacht-das-bizarre-doppelleben-des-franco-a-a-1145166.html ))

The Austrians tipped off their German counterparts, who began a surveillance operation. Over the following weeks and months, ample materials testifying to A.’s far-right views were collected. Investigators reached the conclusion that A. and some of his confidants might be planning an attack.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/bundeswehr-offizier-unter-terrorverdacht-das-bizarre-doppelleben-des-franco-a-a-1145166.html ))

This premonition appeared justified when, following the arrests of A. and one of his accomplices, investigators uncovered a large stash of ammunition, most of which was taken from Bundeswehr depots.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/bundeswehr-soldat-franco-a-hortete-1000-schuss-munition-a-1146177.html ))

Accomplices and targets

The size of the Lieutenant’s network is as of now unclear. The weapons were stored by fellow soldier Matthias F. in the central German city of Offenbach.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/bundeswehr-soldat-franco-a-hortete-1000-schuss-munition-a-1146177.html )) A blacklist of potential targets for assassinations appears to have been compiled by Franco A. together with at least one other accomplice, Maximilian T., who served together with Franco A. in the Alsace-based battalion.(( http://www.zeit.de/politik/deutschland/2017-05/bundeswehr-franco-a-mitwisser-angela-merkel-ursula-von-der-leyen ))

The blacklist seems like a compilation of all political actors A. and his followers despised: targets include former German President Joachim Gauck, current Minister of Justice Heiko Maas, Green party politician Claudia Roth, as well as Bodo Ramelow, Minister President of the state of Thuringia and leading member of the Left party.

Yet the list also mentioned civil society institutions, such as the Amadeu Antonio Foundation, the most important foundation seeking justice for the victims of far-right and neo-Nazi violence; as well as the Central Council of Jews and the Central Council of Muslims.(( http://www.zeit.de/politik/deutschland/2017-05/bundeswehr-franco-a-mitwisser-angela-merkel-ursula-von-der-leyen ))

A larger issue

The extent to which the conspirators’ deliberations amounted to a coherent plan or just to a megalomaniacal laundry list of unreachable targets needs to be uncovered by further investigations. Yet even so, the events surrounding Franco A. cast an exceedingly negative light on the Lieutenant’s environment in Germany’s armed forces.

Not only was A.’s master’s thesis not seen as a cause for a concern (critics would say that it was, in fact, swept under the rug). Army inspectors also visited the Lieutenant’s barracks in French Illkirch, only to report that they had found swastikas drawn on the barracks’ walls as well as on an assault rifle. They also noted that the buildings contained a range of memorabilia from the Wehrmacht, the National Socialist predecessor of the current German Bundeswehr.(( http://www.zeit.de/politik/deutschland/2017-05/bundeswehr-verteidigungsministerin-ursula-von-der-leyen-usa-reise ))

Extremism in the Bundeswehr

The Bundeswehr has repeatedly had to struggle with allegations of unsavoury behaviour in its ranks. Over the past few months, a string of sexual harassment scandals have rocked the Army. Moreover, the armed forces have faced repeated accusations that they are too lenient vis-à-vis right-wing extremism.

The military intelligence agency (Militärischer Abschirmdienst, MAD) is currently investigating 280 cases of potentially far-right and neo-Nazi soldiers. Yet the treatment of these affairs is long-winded and the number of unreported cases potentially considerably higher.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/rechtsextremismus-in-der-bundeswehr-wenn-der-soldat-den-hitlergruss-zeigt-1.3493827 ))

In fact, an overriding concern in recent years had been the possibility that Islamists might join the armed forces in order to gain military training or even battlefield experience. This is, to be sure, a risk: from 2007 to 2016, 24 soldiers with Islamist leanings were identified by the MAD.(( https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/bundeswehr-islamisten-101.html )) Nevertheless, against the backdrop of the case of Franco A., this strong focus on Islamists looks like a major blunder on the part of the military and intelligence leadership.

Political repercussions

These events have placed considerable pressure on the German Defence Minister, Ursula von der Leyen. Widely dubbed as a potential successor to Chancellor Merkel in her CDU Party, von der Leyen took up the Ministry of Defence after the last federal election in 2013 in order to gain political clout.

At the same time, the Ministry is famed for being “ungovernable”.(( http://www.dw.com/de/schleudersitz-verteidigungsministerium/a-16889658 )) Successive corruption affairs, as well as managerial incompetence have long plagued the German defence portfolio, including during von der Leyen’s tenure. Yet no scandal has developed into such a threat to von der Leyen’s position as the case of Franco A.

The Minister initially took a strikingly bold stance, attesting the army an “attitude problem” and “leadership weaknesses”. However, a backlash from within the CDU forced von der Leyen to apologise for these utterances, seen as tarnishing the work of thousands of committed soldiers. Others questioned von der Leyen’s ability to actually control her own ministry and the armed forces. (( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/bundeswehr-skandal-nur-merkel-verteidigt-von-der-leyen-1.3492235 ))

Growing militancy of the German far right

The case involving Franco A. is only the latest indication of growing militancy on the part of the German far-right. Answering to an information request by a Left party MP, the federal government has just published new data showing that more and more known far-right activists are acquiring weapons, with numbers nearly doubling between 2014 and early 2017.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/news/politik/waffen-750-rechtsextreme-besitzen-legal-schusswaffen-dpa.urn-newsml-dpa-com-20090101-170506-99-343300 ))

In recent months, the German National Day celebrations were have been overshadowed by bomb blasts and far-right agitation. More generally, the incidence of xenophobic hate crimes has skyrocketed with the ‘refugee crisis’ has remained high ever since.

On the backs of refugees

The fact that Franco A. sought to pass himself off as a Syrian grocer is also indicative of a scapegoating mechanism that seeks to paint refugees as the originators of violence. In this respect, the presence of refugees is instrumentalised to carry out agendas of violent action.

These agendas need not necessarily be political. A particularly striking case in this regard was the recent bomb attack on the team bus of the Borussia Dortmund football team. The perpetrator placed three letters at the scene in which the so-called Islamic State appeared to claim responsibility.

Investigators later found, however, that the man had most likely sought to make large financial gains on the stock market by speculating on a dramatic fall in the football clubs’ share prices in the aftermath of his attack.(( https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-04-21/german-soccer-team-attacker-hoped-to-profit-from-share-slump ))

Reactions to the Woolwich murder

v23-web-adebowaleTwo men attacked and killed Drummer Lee Rigby, of 2nd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, before they were shot by armed police and taken to hospital where they are still receiving treatment.

The attack in Woolwich, south-east London, has led to a renewed focus on terrorism and Islamist extremism in the UK as well as an increase in tension and attacks on Muslims in Britain. Two men have been charged with separate attacks on mosques, in Kent and Essex, after the death of the soldier. With far-right groups seeking to translate public disgust at the killing into general anti-Muslim and are reacting just as the murderers had hoped they would. There are reports of mosque attacks similar to incidents that occurred after the Tube and bus bombings of 7 July 2005.Vaguely disguised acts of racism quite at odds with the general public mood. The military charity Help for Heroes said since the attack people had been “spontaneously showing support for the armed forces”. The following leading figures and institutions have spoken out about the attack and what it means to the various communities as well as British society as a whole.

The Muslim Council of Britain

This is a truly barbaric act that has no basis in Islam and we condemn this unreservedly. Our thoughts are with the victim and his family. We understand the victim is a serving member of the armed forces. Muslims have long served in this country’s armed forces, proudly and with honour. This attack on a member of the armed forces is dishonourable, and no cause justifies this murder.

This action will no doubt heighten tensions on the streets of the United Kingdom. We call on all our communities, Muslim and non-Muslim, to come together in solidarity to ensure the forces of hatred do not prevail. It is important we allow our police authorities to do their job without speculation. We also urge the utmost vigilance and ask the police authorities to calm tensions.

Julie Siddiqi, Islamic Society of Britain

We need to remain calm and people need to remain vigilant.

We need to make sure we don’t allow extremists to divide the country. We need to remain calm and measured and get the message out there that we will not allow this to divide us.

It was an attack on all of us, on our country, all of us.

It’s very hard for the good people of this country to understand what’s going on. How can you say your religion is a religion of peace and then you have a guy literally with blood on his hands and a knife in his hand doing something completely the opposite?

I don’t think it matters what is happening in another country in any way whatsoever. This should never have happened. There is no justification.

Col Mike Dewar, security and defence analyst

Everyone says it’s a terrorist attack but personally I think it depends on what your definition of terror is. These two appeared to be two individuals, deluded, with extremist ideas, Islamist or not.

The main point is its most unlikely to be a terrorist incident: the formula for that is that it needs to be done by a recognised organisation, the maximum number of people need to be killed and then the terrorists need to escape, to possibly kill other people.

The man killed might have been a soldier or he was certainly sympathetic to soldiers, making him an obvious target. But then the men discussed their reasoning with bystanders: this is nutter territory.

Too early to tell if it’s more than deluded individuals. They may have been groomed but it doesn’t make them terrorists. Just heinous murder.

Jahan Mahmood, a community leader from Birmingham

There needs to be better collaboration between the authorities and the communities.

In many instances the government hasn’t really listened and there is a lot of talk about doing the work that they claim to carry out and the same can go for a number of senior Muslim organisations

These attackers are two isolated individuals who appear to be brainwashed and indoctrinated.

One of them appeared to quote from the bible. An extreme jihadist Muslim would not quote from the bible.

We are sickened by these types of events and we are deeply disturbed by their misguided interpretations of the faith

Keith Vaz MP, chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee

We need to look at who carried out this barbaric crime and follow it up swiftly.

People need to stay calm – I think some of the stories that we’ve heard this morning of demonstrations in certain areas… this is not helpful to the police. The police should not be distracted from the very important work that they have to do.

The crucial focus in the next 24 hours is to let Bernard Hogan-Howe [Metropolitan Police commissioner] and his team look and see what happened.

Usama Hasan, a senior researcher at Quilliam, a think tank specialising in counter-extremism

The real problem here is the decisive hatred preached by a very small minority of clerics in this country in a small number of our mosques and universities.

They know who they are and there are Muslim groups and other groups, left-wing groups, may I say, who defend that kind of grievance and victim-hood mentality. That’s what must change and has to stop. A very small number of people but unfortunately their influence is too high.

Boris Johnson, Mayor of London

It is completely wrong to blame this killing on the religion of Islam but it is also equally wrong to try to draw any links between this murder and the foreign policy or the action of British forces who are risking their lives abroad for the sake of freedom.

The fault lies wholly and exclusively in the warped and deluded mind-set of the people who did it.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO Secretary General

I strongly condemn this shocking and barbaric crime. Such attacks can never be justified. Our thoughts at this terrible time are with the victim’s family and friends. We stand in solidarity with the British government and the people of Britain.

Ajmal Masroor, an Imam and broadcaster in London

If it does it’ll be a tragedy because we would have allowed the terrorists and the thugs to win the battle, or the narrative. We don’t want to go down that route.

I would like to call upon every community member listening that there are racist thugs in our country, there are criminals, there are murderers, there are paedophiles – we don’t all become vigilantes and we don’t go around attacking one another.

At this moment in time when things are very difficult we would all make a distinction. These idiots have done this, there is no God in what they’ve done, it is not done in the name of Islam. It is not done for Muslims; it is just their thuggish low-life scum mind-set.

Dr Brooke Roger, senior lecturer in risk and terror at King’s College London

One of the problems in preventing violent radicalisation is the slight disconnect between the role of the security services tasked with monitoring and protecting us and some of the more local authorities and community-based groups.

Local authorities go in with long-term strategies and long-term goals. When something like this occurs we start bringing in the security services who have a long-term role but also have to act in the moment.

We need to make sure these groups are working together and they’re not undoing some of the relationships and trust that’s been built up.

I do think the websites are a significant problem. People can find the information if they want it and I think that is a problem.

We very much need to keep a balance between freedom to access information and understand the nature of individuals and the psychological process that occurs when they see this information.

Jim Murphy MP, shadow defence secretary

This horrendous and horrific act against our armed forces has shocked us all. In our moments of anger we should be strengthened in our national resolve to tackle hatred and terrorism wherever they exist.

The government and security services have our full support in establishing the facts and preventing any future such crimes.

As a country we should respond with a reassertion of the values of tolerance and justice, the values that these extremists hate so much about our country.

We should all help to ensure our armed forces never feel fearful in public. They protect us, and today each of us can send a loud message of support, solidarity and gratitude to all service personnel serving in our towns and cities at home and overseas.

 

Barack Obama, US President

Barack Obama says his country “stands resolute with the United Kingdom, our ally and friend, against violent extremism and terror”.

Muslim protesters burn poppies in London

12 November 2010

As the clock struck 11:00 and people stood for Armistice Day’s two minutes of silence, Islamic protesters in London burned a model of a poppy, and shouted out messages such as “British soldiers burn in hell.” The poppy is a symbol commemorating fallen British soldiers of the First World war and all wars thereafter.
About 35 protesters, many with their faces masked, gathered near Hyde Park. They set a model of a poppy on fire at the stroke of 11am, and then marched through the area carrying signs and chanting. Messages on the signs included “Hands off Muslim lands,” “Islam will dominate,” “There is no God but Allah,” “Our dead are in paradise, your dead are in hell” and “British soldiers burn in hell.”
The protesters said they were members of a group called Muslims Against Crusades.
The Muslim Council of Britain said that while the protesters claim to speak for Muslims, many more join fellow Britons in remembering the sacrifice of the armed forces.

Muslims must quit British Forces, says Iranian envoy to Britain

The Iranian representative in Britain, Abdolhossein Moezi, has told Muslim servicemen and women to quit the Armed Forces, saying that their involvement in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars is forbidden by Islam. He said that it was wrong for followers of Islam to serve in the Armed Forces, especially in Afghanistan and Iraq where Muslims were being killed.

The cleric, personally appointed by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to be his special envoy to the UK, also urged Muslims to defeat the opposition to the Iranian regime and keep the 30-year-old Islamic Republic alive. He condemned 9/11, 7/7 as well as the Fort Hood incident, but accused the forces of “Zionist imperialism” of using the atrocities to smear Islam and its followers.

Furthermore Moezi stated that his role in Britain was to provide spiritual advice to all Muslims, irrespective of their sectarian backgrounds, and encourage them to become more involved in British society through education and employment.

Remembering the Brave: The Muslim Contribution to Britain’s Armed Forces

Ahead of Remembrance Sunday on November 8, commemorating the end of the First World War, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) published a special report highlighting the long-standing and continued support for the Armed Forces. “Remembering the Brave: The Muslim Contribution to Britain’s Armed Forces” outlines how Muslims have made a historic contribution to the defense of the nation. The document also covers the current contribution of British Muslims to the UK military.

Highlighting past polling data, the document suggests that British Muslims tend to take the sophisticated enough stand to support our troops while dissenting from the government’s decision to send those troops to controversial conflicts. An ICM-run survey in June of 500 British Muslims over the age of 16, found that 78 percent said they opposed Taliban attacks against UK and NATO soldiers in Afghanistan and three-quarters of those surveyed said it was wrong for the West to intervene militarily in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

In this publication, the MCB acknowledges that the operations which the Armed Forces are engaged in today are deeply controversial. But that is not simply a concern amongst Muslims; it is shared by other British people also.

Muslim Council of Britain publishes report on history of Muslims in British Armed Forces

Ahead of Remembrance Sunday on November 8, commemorating the end of the First World War, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) published a special report highlighting the long-standing and continued support for the Armed Forces. “Remembering the Brave: The Muslim Contribution to Britain’s Armed Forces” outlines how Muslims have made a historic contribution to the defense of the nation. The document also covers the current contribution of British Muslims to the UK military.

Highlighting past polling data, the document suggests that British Muslims tend to take the sophisticated enough stand to support our troops while dissenting from the government’s decision to send those troops to controversial conflicts. An ICM-run survey in June of 500 British Muslims over the age of 16, found that 78 percent said they opposed Taliban attacks against UK and NATO soldiers in Afghanistan and three-quarters of those surveyed said it was wrong for the West to intervene militarily in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

In this publication, the MCB acknowledges that the operations which the Armed Forces are engaged in today are deeply controversial. But that is not simply a concern amongst Muslims; it is shared by other British people also.

Defense minister urges more British Muslims to join armed forces

The defence minister, Bob Ainsworth, has appealed to British Muslims to join the armed forces, saying that it was “vitally important that our army, navy and air force are reflective of the hugely diverse society in which we live”.

In an address to the Armed Forces Muslim Conference, Ainsworth said the services were a “fundamental and very positive part of British society, and that they need to be a positive part of Muslim society as well”.

His address follows last month’s Royal Anglican Regiment homecoming in Luton at which a group of Muslims protested, prompting angry scenes involving some of those who had been welcoming the return of the troops. Today there are about 390 Muslims serving across the armed forces.

Conference for Muslims in the military

A country house in Hampshire was the rarefied setting for the second conference hosting Muslims serving in Britain’s armed forces. Close to 400 Muslims serve in the military – about 300 in the Army, 50 in the RAF and 40 in the Navy. Imam Asim Hafiz, who has served as the Muslim chaplain for the last three years, organised the conference and is in charge of ministering to the spiritual needs of Muslims in all three services. “They are soldiers but at the same time they have a faith identity, a Muslim identity,” he told the BBC. He went on to explain that the conference provided Muslims with advice on tackling some of the issues they may face – like how to talk to superiors about getting regular prayer time, or having halal food available or fasting. Some of the older officers explained that when they joined the issue of halal food was not understood at all, leading to a diet that consisted largely of potatoes and peas. But while progress has been made, there was a sense that more work needed to be done to educate officers on how to deal with Muslims in their ranks and what it means to practise a religion. “It is an education for the individual on how to raise these issues and an education to the hierarchy that these are just different requirements that need to be considered,” explained one flight lieutenant in the RAF.

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Army looks to entice Muslims

British Muslims will be wooed to join the fight against the Taliban in a new Army recruitment drive. Military bosses plan to send serving Muslims back into their communities to encourage others to join the fight in Afghanistan. General Sir David Richards, Commander-in-Chief of Land Forces, revealed the move in an interview with an internal Ministry of Defence journal. He said: “There is an appreciation on our part that the Army would be better getting more Muslims into our ranks.” He added: “I am looking to see if some of our Muslim troops can go back into their communities to act as extra recruiters.” An MoD source revealed Bradford, West Yorks, would be the first area targeted.

He said: “We already know there are many young men and women in Bradford very keen to join up.”

Full-text article continues here. (Some news sites may require registration)

Conference for Muslims in the military

A country house in Hampshire was the rarefied setting for the second conference hosting Muslims serving in Britain’s armed forces. Close to 400 Muslims serve in the military – about 300 in the Army, 50 in the RAF and 40 in the Navy. Imam Asim Hafiz, who has served as the Muslim chaplain for the last three years, organised the conference and is in charge of ministering to the spiritual needs of Muslims in all three services. “They are soldiers but at the same time they have a faith identity, a Muslim identity,” he told the BBC. He went on to explain that the conference provided Muslims with advice on tackling some of the issues they may face – like how to talk to superiors about getting regular prayer time, or having halal food available or fasting. Some of the older officers explained that when they joined the issue of halal food was not understood at all, leading to a diet that consisted largely of potatoes and peas. But while progress has been made, there was a sense that more work needed to be done to educate officers on how to deal with Muslims in their ranks and what it means to practise a religion. “It is an education for the individual on how to raise these issues and an education to the hierarchy that these are just different requirements that need to be considered,” explained one flight lieutenant in the RAF.http://themuslimweekly.com/newsdetails/fullstoryview.aspx?NewsID=9CC40E37CC587FE51F5421B4&MENUID=HOMENEWS&DESCRIPTION=UK%20News