German officer said to have posed as Syrian refugee goes on trial

The trial of a German army officer on charges of planning attacks on politicians out of extreme right-wing motivation began in Frankfurt on Thursday with the defence accusing the prosecution of a smear campaign against the accused.

The prosecution alleges that the 32-year-old first lieutenant, named only as Franco A under Germany’s strict privacy laws, illegally procured firearms, ammunition and explosives to carry out attacks on high-ranking politicians and others in public life for their work in promoting the interests of refugees.

The prosecution alleges that the accused acquired a false identity as an apparent Syrian refugee with “considerable organizational effort.” His aim was to pass off the planned attacks as an act of terrorism by a recognized asylum-seeker in order to undermine confidence in official policy on asylum.

The charges, first published in December 2017, listed Heiko Maas, justice minister at the time and currently foreign minister, Claudia Roth, then a vice-president of the lower house of parliament, and Anetta Kahane, a human rights activist, among the prominent alleged targets.

Franco A had procured four firearms, more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition and 50 explosive devices, it said.

Speaking to journalists before the trial began, Franco A, who is not being held in custody, rejected the charges and flatly denied being a right-wing extremist. “I have never planned any actions whatever to disadvantage any person whatever,” he said.

In the courtroom he made no attempt to hide from cameras. In their statement to the court, his lawyers charged the prosecution with character assassination, a smear campaign and harassment of their client.

Numerous statements from associates of the accused were read out describing him as open-minded and with a strong sense of justice, while others said he was “very conservative, but by no means militant.”

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