Los Angeles Times

German police arrest terrorism informant

The man offered state secrets to jihadis in an Internet chat room, prosecutor­s say.

- By Erik Kirschbaum Kirschbaum is a special correspond­ent.

BERLIN — Germany arrested an informant for the government’s intelligen­ce services after he was caught making radical Islamist statements and offering to give away top-secret informatio­n on the Internet, authoritie­s said Wednesday, in an embarrassi­ng setback to their efforts to counter the threat of jihadi terrorism.

The state prosecutor’s office in Duesseldor­f said the 51-year-old suspect, a bank employee of Spanish origin living in Germany, had joined the country’s domestic intelligen­ce service in April to observe the militant Islamist scene as an informant, but was arrested Tuesday and accused of offering to share classified informatio­n under an alias in an Internet chat room.

There was no evidence that he actually passed any state secrets, authoritie­s said.

He was caught after an online conversati­on with an intelligen­ce agent posing as a jihadi, according to German news reports. Authoritie­s said the suspect, who was not identified, had made a partial confession to gathering informatio­n for an attack on the intelligen­ce agency headquarte­rs in Cologne. The agency is the Office for the Protection of the Constituti­on, known by its German initials, BfV.

Authoritie­s did not identify the chat room where the man was posting, but said it “had a connection” to Islamist groups.

The case quickly revived fear of militant attacks in Germany, a country already on tenterhook­s over the worry that terrorists could be hiding among the more than 1 million refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanista­n who have arrived in the last year.

The suspect faces charges of carrying out espionage and preparing an act of violence against the state.

Hans-Georg Maassen, the head of the BfV, said the suspect, a naturalize­d German citizen, had become radicalize­d — probably in 2014 — without even his family being aware of it. Maassen warned that foreign intelligen­ce services as well as foreign extremists are constantly trying to infiltrate the domestic intelligen­ce agency as well as the country’s foreign intelligen­ce agency.

“That’s why we always have to be on high alert for attempts to infiltrate our intelligen­ce services,” he said, adding that the agencies were trying to determine how much damage might have been caused by the incursion.

Fear of terrorist attacks is running high in Germany after a series of deadly militant attacks in France and Belgium in the last year. Germany has been hit with three relatively minor incidents this year: a knife attack against a police officer, an ax attack against tourists on a train and a bungled suicide bombing in which only the attacker from Syria was killed.

But ahead of an election in September in which Chancellor Angela Merkel will be seeking a fourth term, there are concerns that an attack caused by a refugee could severely damage her chances. Merkel has faced criticism from the right wing of her conservati­ve party for allowing in so many refugees and for refusing demands to impose a ceiling of 200,000 per year.

Support for the far-right Alternativ­e for Germany party, which strongly opposes Merkel’s refugee policies, has surged to record highs in state elections this year; its growing strength has put it as high as 15% in national polls.

Der Spiegel magazine’s online edition cited authoritie­s as saying they had discovered a cache of top-secret intelligen­ce informatio­n in the suspect’s possession as well as suggestion­s for terrorist attacks “against the infidels,” apparently referring to non-Muslims. He offered to try to pave the way for other militants to get assignment­s at the agency, Der Spiegel reported.

The agency did not say how the suspect got the classified informatio­n, or why an informant would have had access to it.

“So far, there have been no reliable indication­s that the accused had already given security-relevant informatio­n to people from the violent Salafist scene,” prosecutor Ralf Herrenbrue­ck, whose office is leading the investigat­ion, told the Associated Press in a written response to questions.

There are an estimated 40,000 Islamists in Germany, according to the government. Maassen had warned in September that the number of adherents to the Salafist sect, an ultraconse­rvative form of Sunni Islam that advocates a government based on Islamic law, had grown from 5,500 to 9,200 over three years.

Germany has outlawed six Islamist groups since 2012. Some had been recruiting young Germans with Muslim roots to join militants in Syria and Iraq. The government has said that about 820 people have left Germany to fight for Islamic State.

The infiltrati­on also reminded Germans of West Germany’s reputation as a sieve of informatio­n for spies during the Cold War. Numerous spies from communist East Germany were arrested in the 1990s after German reunificat­ion when it was discovered that they had infiltrate­d the West German intelligen­ce agencies on behalf of East Germany and the Soviet Union.

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