20 jihadists 'exploited' German army for training before going to Syria
Jihadists could be exploiting the German armed forces to get military training ahead of staging attacks in Europe or travelling to the Middle East, the head of German military counter-intelligence has warned.
At least 20 former German soldiers have been identified fighting for Islamic State and other groups in the Middle East, said Christof Gramm, the head of the MAD counter-intelligence agency.
"We see a risk that the Bundeswehr could be used as a training camp for violent Islamists," Dr Gramm told Welt newspaper in an interview.
The warning follows the discharge of a soldier from the German army after jihadist material was found on his computer.
A court last month upheld the discharge of the soldier, who has not been named under German privacy laws.
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He had refused to disclose the reasons for a trip to Egypt in 2013 during which he visited a radicalised madrasa, and called for the introduction of sharia law in Germany.
"Anyone who has access to secret documents of course has to undergo a security check," Dr Gramm said."So must anyone who wants to work with infrastructure vulnerable to sabotage, such as waterworks. But there's no advance check for those who are to be trained in weapons of war."
The attacks on Charlie Hebo and other targets in Paris in January heightened concerns that jihadists had access to military training, the intelligence chief told Welt.
"I had been in office three days when we saw the attack in Paris. The assassins obviously had some basic military skills," he said."It would be negligent if a MAD chief didn't wonder: 'What if an Islamist trained by the army does something and we didn't notice?"
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The counter-intelligence agency had been watching the soldier who was discharged for some time before it acted in his case, Dr Gramm said.
"Every year, we process 400 suspected cases of extremism – in particular, Islamists and the far right," he said.
"The largest number are still the far right. But for potential explosiveness, Islamists make us particularly worried, because it's harder to break into their environment."
Dr Gramm said the majority of investigations turn out to be false alarms, and the number of cases in which genuine extremism is found are "in the double digits".
No currently serving soldier has been found fighting for extremist groups, Dr Gramm said.
In addition to the 20 former German troops in the Middle East, one former soldier has been identified fighting for pro-Russian militants in eastern Ukraine.