EXRTREMISMFranco A.: A German Right-Wing Extremist Soldier's Double Life

By Ben Knight and Andrea Grunau

Published 16 February 2022

All eyes are on Frankfurt, on the trial of Franco A. a Bundeswehr soldier accused of plotting a terrorist attack while posing as a Syrian refugee. This week, he was taken into custody over fresh evidence.

Bundeswehr soldier Franco A. has been on trial since May 2021 over preparing a “serious act of violent subversion.” He allegedly planned to commit terrorist attacks targeting public figures while posing as a Syrian refugee and blame the attacks on asylum seekers (the German press code stresses the importance of protecting the privacy of suspected criminals or victims, and the media typically refrain from revealing full names in such cases). 

Frankfurt’s Higher Regional Court said on Monday (14.2.2022) that the 33-year-old, who has been free during his trial until now, was back in custody after a routine check at a train station found unnamed objects in his possession that could serve as evidence. It remains unclear whether the check was carried out at random or whether Franco A. had been targeted for checking. According to media reports, the terrorist suspect resisted the officers. 

Before his arrest Sunday, Franco A. had been required to check in with the authorities regularly, and half his salary was being withheld. During a special closed court hearing on Monday, authorities concluded that he should be considered a flight risk. 

First arrested in February 2017, Franco A. was in pretrial detention for seven months, until a court ordered his release in late November 2017, as the court found “no urgent suspicion” he was preparing to commit a criminal act against the state. He has confessed to owning a number of weapons, but has rejected allegations that he was planning an attack. The case sparked scrutiny of a network of far-right extremists in the German military. 

A Case with an International Dimension
Prosecutors believe the former Bundeswehr officer took weapons and explosives from the German army to carry out attacks on targets including high-ranking politicians. 

Franco A., already a career soldier, was initially apprehended by Austrian authorities as he attempted to retrieve a French pistol and ammunition that he had hidden in a bathroom at Vienna airport. 

After checking his fingerprints in a database, authorities discovered that the man, born the son of an Italian father and a German mother in the Hesse region of Germany, was actually registered as a Syrian refugee living in Bavaria. Despite the fact that he spoke hardly any Arabic and was supposed to be serving full-time at a Bundeswehr base in Alsace, nobody had realized he was leading a double life.