Germany's defence minister on Sunday vowed zero tolerance for far-right extremists in the military amid a widening scandal over a soldier who allegedly plotted an attack which he planned to blame on refugees.
A 28-year-old army lieutenant, named by German media as Franco A, was arrested last Wednesday on suspicion of planning a gun attack while posing as a fictitious Damascus fruit seller.
Police on the same day arrested a 24-year-old alleged co-conspirator named by media as Mathias F, who was reportedly in possession of bullets, flares and other objects that breach weapons laws.
A report in the Bild daily said that police found a "death list" compiled by the latter suspect, including left-wing anti-fascist activists.
The scandal widened after news magazine Der Spiegel reported that the suspect had expressed far-right views in a 2014 academic paper, but that no disciplinary action was taken against him.
Speaking to Germany’s public broadcaster ZDF after this information came to light, Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen said that Germany would not tolerate political extremism, whether it be “right-wing or religiously motivated.”
Von der Leyen pointed to leadership failures within the German army, known as the Bundeswehr, and criticised "a misunderstood esprit de corps" that had led superior officers to "look the other way" in the lieutenant's case.
She and Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, in charge of immigration and refugee issues, have vowed to clear up the embarrassing case, which has led one Social Democrat member to label them a "security risk" for Germany.
The lieutenant was first temporarily detained in February, by Austrian police at Vienna airport, after he tried to retrieve a loaded, unregistered handgun he had hidden in a toilet there days earlier.
This sparked an investigation in which a fingerprint check threw up an even bigger surprise: the suspect had in December 2015 created a false identity as a Syrian refugee.
The soldier, who has an Italian father and German mother, had pretended to be a Damascus fruit seller named "David Benjamin" -- ostensibly a Catholic with Jewish roots who had fled from Daesh-held territory.
He had registered himself at a refugee shelter in Germany and even launched a request for political asylum, which was accepted, said the prosecution statement.
The statement added that the fact that the soldier couldn’t even speak a word of Arabic failed to ring alarm bells.
He was allotted a place in the refugee home and from January 2016 onward received 400 euros ($435) a month in state assistance under this false identity.