November 29, 2017 / 6:35 PM / a year ago

German court orders release of soldier accused of attack plan

BERLIN (Reuters) - A German court on Wednesday ordered the release of an army officer suspected of planning to carry out an attack on politicians and incriminate asylum seekers, saying there was not enough evidence to keep him in detention.

The officer, named only as Franco A., was arrested in April in a case that shocked Germans and stirred a debate about the depth of right-wing radicalism in the country’s military.

Prosecutors suspected that Franco A., along with two accomplices, wanted to implicate refugees in their planned attack by posing under a false identity as an asylum seeker.

Former president Joachim Gauck and Justice Minister Heiko Maas were on a list of possible targets prepared by the suspects, who wanted to make their attack look like the work of Islamist militants, prosecutors had said.

However, the Federal Court of Justice ruled on Wednesday that there was not enough evidence that Franco A. was preparing an attack to keep him in detention, even if there were some grounds for suspicion.

Investigators must now make clear whether they have enough evidence to bring the officer to trial. A suspected accomplice was freed in July pending trial, while the other suspect was released for lack of evidence.

The case had put pressure on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government, with her close ally, Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen, facing criticism for failing to deal with right-wing extremism in the army and also because she implied that most soldiers were right-wing radicals.

Franco A., who served with an army battalion stationed in France, had used a fake identity to register as a Syrian refugee and moved into a shelter for migrants in Bavaria even though he speaks no Arabic.

The soldier had previously been detained in late January by Austrian authorities on suspicion of having hidden an illegal gun in a bathroom at Vienna’s main airport.

Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal and Thorsten Severin; editing by Mark Heinrich

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