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German soldier who posed as a refugee found guilty of attack plot

The right-wing extremist was convicted of prepping a ‘serious act of violence endangering the state’

Defendant Franco A. — widely identified in the media as Franco Albrecht — is seen in court in Frankfurt, Germany, on July 15. (Boris Roessler/AFP/Getty Images)
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BERLIN — A German soldier who falsely registered as a Syrian asylum seeker while plotting domestic terrorism was convicted of preparing a “serious act of violence endangering the state,” one of the country’s most prominent cases of right-wing extremism in recent years.

A 33-year-old lieutenant in the German military, identified by the court as Franco A. but widely named in the media as Franco Albrecht, was sentenced to 5½ years in prison. He was also convicted of possessing illegal weapons and explosives and of fraud, according to the verdict, which is subject to appeal.

The extraordinary case unfolded like a movie plot when Albrecht was arrested in 2017 after trying to retrieve a loaded pistol from a bathroom in the Vienna airport. The gun had been discovered and reported by a cleaning staffer, and police then lay in wait for someone to retrieve it.

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A run of Albrecht’s fingerprints revealed he had been leading a double life: The officer in the German military was also registered in Bavaria as a Syrian refugee named Benjamin David.

Prosecutors accused him of posing as a Syrian to make his planned attacked appear to be “radical Islamist acts of terrorism.” He had been plotting his actions since 2015, during the thick of the so-called migrant crisis, when more than a million refugees — largely from war-torn Syria — were arriving in Germany.

While he was convicted of planning an attack, the court did not accept that his intention was to blame it on the refugee population. It said the defendant had registered as a refugee to expose what he saw as problems with the asylum system.

“On December 29, 2015, he put on old clothes, darkened his face, dyed his beard and went to an initial reception center for refugees,” the verdict said. He told authorities he had fled Syria and entered Germany by car via Austria but lost his passport and only spoke French. After registering as an asylum seeker, he began to receive benefits, maintaining the dual identity until his arrest.

The court found that he had “a right-wing extremist, nationalist and racist attitude that had been firmly established for years,” with a particular “aversion” to people of the Jewish faith. He blamed them for engineering the migrant crisis to lead to “racial mixing” and the “ultimate extinction of the German race,” the court said.

He was found guilty on firearms charges after being accused of hoarding weapons of war, including a semiautomatic rifle and two semiautomatic pistols, over 1,000 rounds of ammunition and more than 50 explosive devices. Some of the explosives and ammunition had been stolen from German military stocks, prosecutors said.

Defense lawyers had argued that there was insufficient evidence he was planning an attack. While the father of three had admitted stockpiling weapons, his lawyers said they were for defense in case of a collapse of the state.

But the court said that he had the “firm intention” of using them in line with his extremist ideology and of launching attacks on high-ranking politicians and public figures, in particular those seen as sympathetic to refugees. Among his intended targets were Claudia Roth, then vice president of the German parliament, and Heiko Maas, who was justice minister at the time, the court said.

In another twist earlier this year, Albrecht, who had not been held in detention while on trial, was arrested again in February on his way back from the French city of Strasbourg. A police search found him to be in possession of a box full of Nazi memorabilia and notes that described the threats to the German nation from migration and intermarriage.

Germany has sought to grapple with far-right extremism in its military in recent years. In 2020, it disbanded a unit of its elite special forces, the KSK, due to far-right links and announced a restructuring of the entire force.