German court sentences far-right army officer to 5½ years imprisonment

On Friday, the Frankfurt Higher Regional Court sentenced German Army officer and neo-Nazi Franco Albrecht to five years and six months in prison for planning attacks on high-ranking politicians and public figures. The verdict is not yet final.

It is the first time that a German court has convicted a Bundeswehr officer of right-wing terrorism. But as in previous trials of far-right terrorists—such as Beate Zschäpe of the neo-Nazi National Socialist Underground (NSU) or Stefan Ernst, who murdered leading Christian Democrat Walter Lübcke—the court was primarily concerned with damage control.

Although Albrecht is a key figure in a wide-ranging right-wing extremist network that reaches deep into the German armed forces and security agencies, the trial focused exclusively on him as an individual. Leading members of the network remained unchallenged. They were not charged or received only a trivial sentence in other trials and remain free.

As recently as June 2018, the Frankfurt Higher Regional Court had refused to open the trial against Albrecht at all. Although all the essential findings that have now led to his conviction were already present at that time, it was justified by claiming there was insufficient suspicion of the preparation of a serious act of violence endangering the state.

It was not until the Kassel district President Walter Lübcke was assassinated by a neo-Nazi a year later and public outrage over the right-wing conspiracy in the state apparatus grew that the Federal Supreme Court ordered the Higher Regional Court to conduct the trial against Albrecht.

The trial began on May 20, 2021 and spanned 40 days. Albrecht, who had been temporarily detained in 2017, remained free for most of the time. Only in February of this year was he taken into custody again because he sought to dispose of evidence. When he was arrested, he was found to have numerous swastika insignia, cutting and stabbing weapons, machetes, and 21 mobile phones with 50 prepaid SIM cards.

Albrecht’s original arrest in February 2017 had focused public attention on the extent of right-wing extremist activity within the Bundeswehr. Significantly, the arrest was not made by German authorities but by the Austrian police. The latter arrested Albrecht when he picked up a pistol at Vienna International Airport which he had previously hidden there.

A fingerprint check revealed that he led a dual existence. He was a first lieutenant in the 291 Jäger Battalion of the Franco-German Brigade in Alsace and, although he did not speak a word of Arabic, had registered as a supposed Syrian asylum seeker “David Benjamin.” Apparently, he wanted to use the false identity to blame refugees for a terrorist attack.

Journalists now have begun to investigate, and it quickly became clear that Albrecht was part of an extensive right-wing conspiracy. He had hoarded several weapons and ammunition, supported by accomplices, and had drawn up lists of possible attack targets, including Green Party politician Claudia Roth, the then Justice Minister Heiko Maas (Social Democratic Party, SPD) and the founder of the anti-racist Amadeu Antonio Foundation, Anetta Kahane.

The attack plans on Kahane were the most advanced. Albrecht had visited the foundation’s premises in Berlin and produced photos of the underground parking garage, location sketches of the premises, plans for a weapons transfer and a suspected escape route.

Albrecht had confidantes and helpers in his unit, the 291 Jägerbataillon, where right-wing extremism was apparently tolerated. Hitler salutes and swastikas were observed again and again. His superiors knew about Albrecht’s right-wing extremist sentiments. As early as 2013, he had written a racist and anti-Semitic master’s thesis at the French Saint-Cyr Military Academy, which was covered up by the responsible Bundeswehr officers so that Albrecht could continue his career as an officer.

He was also a member of a network of elite soldiers, operational police and state officials that were preparing for an armed coup on “Day X,” hoarding weapons, and planning the detention and murder of politicians, civil rights activists and refugee workers. The head of this network is André S. (alias “Hannibal”), a former member of the Bundeswehr’s elite KSK military unit, with whom Franco Albrecht was in personal contact.

The discovery of the Hannibal network after Albrecht’s unmasking triggered hectic activity in state and political circles. In 2020, then Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (CDU) was forced to dissolve one of four companies of the KSK after more and more details about right-wing extremist activities became public. The KSK had “taken on a life of its own in parts,” there had been “a toxic leadership culture” and large quantities of weapons and ammunition had gone missing, she said, explaining the move.

Raids against the “Nordkreuz” group, the northern offshoot of the Hannibal network with close ties to the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), brought to light large quantities of weapons, ammunition, explosives and death lists. The interior minister of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Lorenz Caffier (CDU) had to resign because of his connections to “Nordkreuz.” But nothing happened to those responsible.

In 2019, the Böblingen District Court fined André S. (“Hannibal”) for violations of the Weapons and Explosives Act, against which he has appealed. He was transferred out of the KSK but not discharged from the Bundeswehr.

In the “Nordkreuz” case, the Federal Prosecutor General dropped the investigation against two leading members, lawyer Jan-Hendrik H. and criminal investigator Haik J., an AfD member. Marko G.—a former paratrooper, SEK (Special Tactical Unit) police officer and AfD member—was the only member of the group to receive a suspended sentence.

Bundeswehr Officer Maximilian T., who was arrested in 2017 along with Albrecht for helping him disguise his dual identity, hide weapons and maintain a hit list, was soon released. He was even given free access to the Bundestag (federal parliament), frequented by many of the targeted victims, as an employee of AfD Member of Parliament Jan Nolte. Maximilian T. is the brother of Franco Albrecht’s fiancée Sophia T., with whom he has three children.

In the five and a half years since Albrecht’s initial arrest, numerous articles and books have revealed the extent of the far-right networks inside the military and state apparatus. The Frankfurt Higher Regional Court felt compelled to convict Albrecht because of the overwhelming burden of proof. But there is no effort to dry up the right-wing swamp. On the contrary, if those in ruling circles have their way, the verdict is supposed to draw a line under the criticism of militarism and right-wing extremism.

Hundreds of billions of euros are being spent rearming the Bundeswehr, which is supposed to move back into the centre of society. Any criticism of militarism is declared a crime. Pacifism does not lead to good but cements “the dominance of the bad, the criminal and the inhuman,” ex-Federal President Joachim Gauck recently declared on the Markus Lanz talk show. The veneration of Nazi collaborators, such as Ukrainian fascist Stepan Bandera, is considered “understandable” and welcome.

This must not be allowed.