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German army officers’ far-right plot may force military to strengthen vetting

The German military may strengthen vetting of recruits after the discovery of a far-right plot by army officers to frame Syrian refugees for an attack.

German media reported on Wednesday, May 17 that the country’s Federal Office for Migration and Refugees is currently dealing with setbacks in the asylum application process following an internal audit of the program.

A review of 1,000 asylum applications found administrative errors in 10-15 percent of approved cases. Another 2,000 cases are still due to be reviewed.

Officials launched the probe after uncovering a far-right plot last month within the country’s armed forces,  the Bundeswehr.

Germany’s military experienced a shock on April 26 when authorities arrested 28-year-old army lieutenant Franco A and 22-year-old student Mathias F in Offenbach. The two men were suspected of planning a racially motivated attack.

Their alleged co-conspirator, 27-year old German army lieutenant Maximilian T, was arrested on May 9 as investigation into the far-right terror plot continued.

According to prosecutors, the three men intended to attack high-ranking politicians, including former president Joachim Gauck, over Berlin’s policy toward refugees. Franco A planned to execute the assault posing as a Syrian asylum-seeker motivated by radical Islamism.

The number of asylum-seekers arriving in Europe has dropped sharply since 2015. Germany welcomed only about 280,000 refugees in 2016, compared to 890,000 the previous year.

Far-right sentiments not an epidemic

At present, the German Military Counterintelligence Service is investigating 275 cases of suspected far-right extremism, according to a recent Deutsche Welle report. About 140 cases originated in 2016, and 53 were launched this year.

However, most of the investigations involve racist internet comments, not actual plans for attacks.

Christian Mölling, deputy director of the research institute at the German Council on Foreign Relations, told Grasswire that the anti-refugee plot uncovered in April was not indicative of a widespread problem among service members.

“We are currently talking about two people, maybe five people. You can’t say within the armed force of 180,000 people that it is widespread,” he said.

Mölling explained that Germany has been concerned about preventing the spread of right-wing sentiment within its armed forces, so there is a lot of frustration that the mechanisms that have been put in place did not work.

“They have put a lot of effort into not letting it happen, and now it happened,” he noted.

Changes in vetting

After the scandal surfaced, German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen promised reforms, such as new disciplinary measures and enhancing the process for reporting extremism threats. The changes would also touch upon the set of rules that govern how the armed forces deal with historical military traditions and political education within the military ranks.

The German armed forces pride themselves in having an inner leadership system, Mölling said. They want to employ people who can make a judgment call on the level of being a citizen of the state. The idea is based on a high moral standard.

“The argument has been that these high standards have crumbled,” Mölling stated. “They say they want to rebuild this tradition.”

The concept of inner leadership allows the German military to employ a so-called mission approach to carrying out tasks instead of the order approach seen in other nations.

“US armed forces are especially working under orders, so you have to be very precise about your orders, where on the German side you simply give your armed forces a mission and let them choose the instruments how to carry them out,” Mölling noted.

Professor Harald Bauder, Immigration and Settlement Studies Program Director at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada, told Grasswire that the anti-refugee plot seems to be an isolated case.

“I’m not aware of any evidence that suggests that this is a common strategy,” he said. “It is interesting, however, that public and political debate revolves around screening refugees and migrants, assuming that there is an inherent danger emanating from this group. The same assumption is apparently not made in public debate when it comes to military personnel.”

The shock caused by uncovered terror plot may result in changes to the vetting procedures for Germans who want to serve in the military.

“In principle, it is not a fault of the armed forces as a military body. It is more about how to secure the entry to the armed forces…What they are going to do anyway is to improve the screening procedures for people who are willing to become recruits before they are recruited,” Mölling concluded.

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