Police have arrested a German soldier who had posed as a Syrian refugee on suspicion he was planning an attack, apparently motivated by anti-foreigner sentiment, in a case that prosecutors said yesterday was "more than strange."
The 28-year-old lieutenant, whose name wasn't released, faces charges of preparing an act of violence, said Frankfurt prosecutor's spokeswoman Nadja Niesen.
The officer, who was "of German background" and stationed in France, allegedly stashed a loaded pistol in a bathroom at the Vienna airport that was discovered, leading Austrian authorities to take him into temporary custody when he went to retrieve it in February, Niesen said.
Though under investigation in Austria, authorities there did not keep him in custody and he was arrested in southern Germany on Wednesday. A 24-year-old student from the soldier's hometown of Offenbach was also arrested. "We know from various voice recordings that both had anti-foreigner views," Niesen said.
The officer had registered as a Syrian refugee in the state of Hesse at the end of 2015 and had been living "sporadically" at a home for asylum seekers since January 2016. Though he was officially stationed with the Bundeswehr in France, authorities say he wasn't required to be present at all times.
Prosecutors believe the officer may have intended to orchestrate an attack so that it was blamed on foreigners, though they haven't yet found evidence to support the theory, Niesen said. Refugees have carried out several deadly attacks in Germany over the past year, stoking anti-migrant sentiment in the country.
"It sounds more than strange," Niesen told reporters. "I think we have to await more from the investigation to find out more about his motivation."
Sixteen buildings were searched in Germany, Austria and France in connection with the investigation, and multiple mobile telephones and other electronic devices were seized as evidence, Niesen said.
Niesen said the suspect knows no Arabic and she did not know how he managed to pass himself off as a Syrian refugee.
Far-right offences in Germany spiked last year to their highest level since 2001, amid growing anti-refugee sentiment in the country triggered by propaganda from far-right parties. Far-right crimes in Germany reached a new record high of 23,555 cases in 2016, according to the interior minister on Monday. Speaking at a press conference in Berlin, Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said the increasing scale of violence was a worrisome development. "Violent offences have increased significantly, this should be of real concern to us all. We are particularly witnessing an increase in grievous bodily harm," De Maiziere said. Germany society has been polarized by the influx of some 890,000 asylum seekers last year with another 213,000 applying in the first nine months of 2016. Although many fewer migrants have entered the country in 2016, parties on the far right have called for an immigration cap.