German military under fire over far-right plot, abuse scandals

May 5, 2017 5:23 pm

German Defense
Minister Ursula von der Leyen attends a press conference in
Illkirch-Graffenstaden, eastern France, on May 3, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

The German has come
under fire over a series of scandals involving the armed forces,
including the case of a racist soldier allegedly
 plotting an attack while posing as a Syrian refugee.
German
Defense Minister Von der Leyen, the first woman in charge of the armed
forces, has harshly been criticized for blaming “her own team” for the
scandals in the military.
A war of words erupted between the
defense chief and the military after German police arrested on Wednesday
a 28-year-old army lieutenant, identified as Franco Albrecht, who had
gained asylum by creating a false identity in his home country.
Incredibly,
the soldier, who spoke no Arabic, had been accepted as a refugee and
was receiving monthly state benefits. The soldier’s case came to light
after Austrian police caught him with a loaded handgun at the Vienna
airport in February.
The subsequent investigation found that he had created a fake identity as a Syrian fruit seller called “David Benjamin” in 2015.
Media
reports said he kept “death lists” with the names of top politicians,
including former president Joachim Gauck, some cabinet ministers and the
Social Democrat interior minister, Heiko Maas.
Reacting to the
case, the defense minister slammed the armed forces for leadership
failures on Sunday. She said that “the German army has an attitude
problem, and it appears to have weak leadership at various levels.”
Her
remarks provoked an angry response from both military figures and
politicians.  Soldiers also reacted angrily by saying that she had
offended every honest soldier and failed to take responsibility herself.
The
defense minister also canceled her planned visit to the United States
to focus on the soldier’s case, according to her spokesman.
The
Defense Ministry is accused of failing to pay attention to repeated
warnings that a small right-wing extremist group was operating within
the military.
Von der Leyen summoned a 100-strong body of top
military officials to Berlin on Thursday to discuss ways to reform the
armed forces. The military is also involved in several other recent
scandals, including sexual abuse.
The European Business daily Handelsblatt wrote that “ministers usually only cancel foreign trips if they face the threat of a putsch at home.”
It
noted that von der Leyen had entered “the danger zone.” “This doesn’t
bring her any closer to her big goal of one day succeeding Merkel.” She
is seen as a leading figure in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian
Democratic Union.
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