A German soldier with far-right views has been found guilty of planning to carry out “false flag” attacks on senior politicians and public figures while successfully posing as a Syrian refugee.
Frankfurt’s higher regional court on Friday sentenced Franco Albrecht, 33, to five and a half years in prison for plotting a “serious act of violent subversion”, violating German arms and explosives laws and two accounts of fraud.
The first lieutenant in the joint Franco-German Brigade held “rightwing extremist and ethnicist-nationalist” convictions and had blamed what he saw as the “disintegration of the German nation” on politicians with pro-refugee views, the judge, Christoph Koller, told the court.
The verdict in the long-delayed trial comes after years of growing concern about “prepper” networks of former and current military service personnel, and the effectiveness of Germany’s security services in standing up to rightwing extremism.
Albrecht was arrested in 2017 after being caught trying to retrieve a loaded gun he had previously stashed away at a public lavatory at Vienna airport.
A fingerprint match revealed that the graduate of Brittany’s prestigious Saint-Cyr military academy had led a double life as a Syrian Christian asylum seeker. Under the false identity David Benjamin, he had registered with authorities in the Bavarian town of Erding and was granted asylum.
Prosecutors believed the ultimate intention of Albrecht’s guise was to carry out far-right terror attacks on politicians and public figures with pro-immigration views, bringing about a “Day X” scenario of societal collapse.
The name of the Green politician, now culture minister, Claudia Roth, was found scribbled in Albrecht’s diary, and he was found to have visited and taken photos at an underground car park underneath the offices of the anti-racism activist, Anetta Kahane.
Investigations found he owned a copy of Adolf Hitler’s book, Mein Kampf, and described immigration as a form of “genocide”.
“The accused is a rightwing radical terrorist”, state prosecutor Karin Weingast said during the trial, which started in May 2021. The prosecution had called for a prison sentence of six years and three months.
During the trial, Albrecht confessed to impersonating and drawing benefits as a Syrian refugee, as well as the illegal possession of weapons, explosives and ammunition.
He claimed to have done so without the intention of carrying out an attack, but merely to protect himself and his family in the case of a Russian attack on western Europe or the breakdown of civil society.
Albrecht had visited Kahane’s garage with the intention of seeking a conversation about Angela Merkel’s refugee policy, he told the court. As proof of his curiosity and unconventional methods to seek out people who interested him, he cited an unannounced visit to the British conspiracy theorist David Icke’s home on the Isle of Wight, though Albrecht left it unclear whether the two men had actually met.
The purpose of his double identity, Albrecht claimed, was to expose how easy it was to exploit the German asylum system.
As to the stashed gun that led to his arrest, the soldier told the court that he had picked up the weapon after chancing upon it while drunkenly urinating in a bush one evening, and then only realized he was still carrying it in his jacket as he was approaching airport security the next day.
A forensics expert who appeared in front of the court disputed Albrecht’s account, saying she had found his fingerprints not just on the outside but also inside the gun. “That is a weapon he used regularly,” she later told Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.
Albrecht, who was free on bail at the start of the trial, was arrested in February this year and put into preventive detention. Military counterintelligence had observed him picking up a bag from a soldier friend in Strasbourg that was found to contain military regalia from the nazi period, as well as diaries in which Albrecht wrote about a military coup and a “final solution”.
During a raid of his flat, police found 21 mobile phones, 50 pre-paid phone cards, five machetes and a forged vaccine certificate. Three further firearms, which the soldier during the trial confessed to having bought, remain unaccounted for.