A suspected right-wing extremist German army officer is thought to have been planning an attack. As part of his preparation, he registered as a refugee from Syria. Now, Franco A. has been arrested in a perplexing case full of riddles.
In photos, Franco A. looks rather unremarkable. In one image, the dark-haired first lieutenant in gray uniform even has a slightly mischievous look on his face. Next to him in the picture, which was taken in the French town of Illkirch, stands a class of schoolchildren. The Bundeswehr soldier is stationed there with a German-French brigade.
For investigators, the young man with parted hair and glasses represents both a puzzling and extremely dangerous case. On Wednesday morning, Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) arrested him in the Bavarian town of Hammelburg. Concurrently, his quarters in France, his car and the apartment of his suspected accomplice in Offenbach were searched. The suspected accomplice, Mathias F., was also detained.
Prosecutors in Frankfurt have been investigating Franco A. since February 17 on suspicions he was planning a significant act of violence. It is thought that A., who was taking part in a hand-to-hand combat training course, may have been planning an attack in Germany.
The scenario laid out by investigators is alarming: Despite his rather ordinary appearance, Franco A. is suspected of being a staunch right-wing extremist, full of hate for foreigners and prone to violence. Furthermore, at the end of 2015, he established a secret identity as a Syrian refugee. One of the theories investigators are pursuing is that Franco A. had hoped to implicate refugees in the act of violence he was planning.
The story began at the end of January. A technician performing maintenance work at Vienna International Airport found a loaded 7.65 caliber pistol in a restroom duct and informed police. After examining the weapon, the officers decided to outfit the duct with an alarm so as to identify the person who came to retrieve the weapon from its hiding place.
A Strange Double Life
The plan bore fruit on February 3 when Franco A. opened the duct and he was taken into temporary custody. Franco A. told police that he had found the weapon in a bush at the location of the January 20 officers’ ball in Vienna. At the airport, he says, he suddenly realized that he wouldn’t be able to take the pistol through security, which is why he hid it in the restroom.
Investigations undertaken following the discovery of the weapon revealed the soldier’s strange double life, but they also cast light on the chaos that reigned at the height of the refugee crisis.