Exposé: The Double Life of Franco A.
By Dilshani Palugaswewa Ceylon Today Features
If not for a maintenance man who stumbled upon a gun in a bathroom of the Vienna Airport in 2017, Franco A. who was apprehended by Austrian authorities as he attempted to retrieve the weapon, would have masqueraded as a displaced person for much longer or until ‘Day X’, before authorities could uncover the truth of this German military officer who guised as David Benjamin – a Syrian Christian refugee seeking refuge in Germany as part of propaganda and a brewing far-right terrorist attack.
His one-year old double life was exposed when the registered fingerprints of Benjamin matched that of the soldier based in Strasbourg – a three hour drive north near Frankfurt where he lived as a refugee. Suddenly, this investigation spanned across three countries and multiple intelligence agencies. After his arrest in 2017, Austrian authorities let him go but informed German authorities and German Military Intelligence who began an undercover investigation into the life of the 32-year-old.
Subsequently in 2018, as a result of a series of raids he was again arrested when irrefutable links emerged of him to suspected terrorist activities. A heap of evidence to suggest his adulation for Hitler and right-wing extremist sentiment in audio and video documents and texts messages were discovered. In fact, within weeks of his arrest, Nazi army memorabilia were found on display at the common room of his base at Illkirch in Strasbourg, despite a ban on Nazi symbols.
Although he denies having any terrorist links, he is accused of planning attacks on several high profile individuals, including politicians and human rights activists among others (who are believed to be refugee-friendly), to bring down the German Government with an intention of pinning the blame on his refugee identity that would in turn propagate Islamophobia and anger against the influx of refugees and migrants entering the country.
German intelligence alleged that he was part of a ‘Hannibal’ network of survivalists who they believe was plotting for the collapse of the German State on a certain day which was later revealed to be a larger network of soldiers, Police officers and like-minded civilians who were planning the death of democracy on Day X. His case was taken up three years ago by a lower State Court in Frankfurt when it came to trial, however it was dismissed as there was not an, “Overwhelmingly high probability,” that he was planning an attack. It later reached a higher court when federal prosecutors appealed.
The accused, who was part of the joint brigade of the French and German armies has refuted all terrorism allegations levelled against him and continues to maintain his innocence and claims that his fake identity was only part of a mission to expose the unfair plight of asylum seekers in Germany’s flawed asylum system. According to an interview Franco A.
gave to a French daily ahead of his trial last month, he acknowledged the stash of weapons authorities found but argued it was not at all illegallyprocured to be used in the planned attacks, as the authorities surmised. He reasoned out that it was all for his and his family’s protection as he was undercover on a mission to personally asses how far the concept of asylum had been abused by the German authorities to the detriment of security.
As for the firearm that was found in the airport, he explained that he had gone to an officers’ ball organised by the Austrian Ministry of Defence but went drinking with a friend and found the Nazi-era Browning Model 17 gun in a bush and put it in his coat. As he later prepared to board a flight, he narrated that in a moment of panic his course of action was to hide it in the washroom before returning weeks later to get it from the Police where the maintenance worker had turned it in.
It was a trap - Austrian Police were waiting for him to return. According to the investigations, Franco A. posed to immigration authorities as a persecuted Frenchspeaking refugee who spoke not a word of German.
He commuted from the Illkirch barracks in France, where he was serving in a prestigious FrancoGerman brigade, to attend asylum hearings, where he communicated through an interpreter. Although initially there was hesitance on the side of German authorities to acknowledge the bigger picture of existing networks of which Franco A.
was allegedly a part of, either because they misunderstood the problem or they were wilfully ignorant and were downplaying the possibility of more uniformed officers from both the military and the Police being involved in what was referred to as the shadow army, in the recent past, they seem to have publicly acknowledged the problem. Last year they even disbanded a whole company of the Special Forces due to far-right extremism. The trial of Franco A. is scheduled to last until August. If convicted, he could face up to 10 years in prison.