BERLIN: German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen has cancelled a visit to the United States to focus on the arrest of an army officer suspected of planning a racially motivated attack. Von der Leyen had planned to travel to New York and Washington today and tomorrow for meetings with UN officials and US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis. “The minister’s top priority is to clear up the circumstances in the case of First Lieutenant A from Illkirch,” the ministry said in a statement, referring to the French town south of Strasbourg where the officer was stationed with an army brigade. Germany’s chief federal prosecutor’s office said yesterday that it had taken over the case from state prosecutors, with a spokesman citing “preliminary indications of preparations for a serious attack against the state”.
Von der Leyen attacked “weak leadership” in the armed forces, or Bundeswehr. She blasted military leaders for not responding appropriately to that “primitive racial ideas” contained in a paper that the suspect had written for his master’s degree at a military academy. German police last week arrested the 28-year-old first lieutenant, who had falsely registered as a Syrian refugee, and also detained a 24-year-old student who was found to be in possession of explosives. Prosecutors said both men harboured “xenophobic views”. The 28-year-old had previously been detained by Austrian authorities on suspicion of having hidden a gun in a bathroom at Vienna’s main Schwechat airport. Investigators later discovered that he had used a fake identity to register as a Syrian refugee, even though he spoke no Arabic, raising concerns that he planned to carry out an attack to frame refugees.