Ex-German Soldiers Charged With Forming Mercenary Group To Fight in Yemen

The two former paratroopers face terror charges over allegations they tried to recruit soldiers and police officers to fight the Houthis in Yemen, as part of a paramilitary they hoped Saudi Arabia would bankroll.

20 October 2021, 4:20pm

Two former German soldiers have been charged with trying to form a terrorist organisation for attempting to create a mercenary army to fight for Saudi Arabia in Yemen, authorities said on Wednesday.

The two former paratroopers, identified only as Arend-Adolf G. and Achim A. in line with German privacy laws, were arrested early on Wednesday in raids by special forces police in the states of Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg. 

According to a statement from the Federal Prosecutor's Office, the men launched their efforts to establish the mercenary force at the start of 2021, aiming to recruit between 100-150 men with backgrounds in the German army or police. They had allegedly contacted at least seven people to try to recruit them for the unit before Wednesday’s raids.

Prosecutors said the accused intended for their mercenary force to fight in the war in Yemen, where a Saudi-led alliance has been fighting Iran-backed Houthi rebels since 2015, and hoped that Saudi Arabia would finance their paramilitary. To that end, Achim A. had allegedly repeatedly tried to set up meetings with the Saudi government to pitch the proposal, but got no response.

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Aside from the Yemen deployment, prosecutors say that the unit also intended to operate as a private military company to fight in other conflicts. Their main motivation in forming the unit was financial, with the suspects hoping to secure a monthly wage of €40,000 (£33,825) for each fighter.

According to the German news site Spiegel, investigators were tipped off when one of the men who was approached to join the mercenary force blew the whistle to the German military’s counter-intelligence unit, which investigates extremism within the ranks. 

Both suspects had worked as contractors for the controversial German security company Asgaard – which has provided security to the Saudi embassy in Iraq – since leaving the German army. 

An Asgaard spokesperson told VICE World News via email that Achim A. worked as head of operation of the company’s security mission in Baghdad for about three weeks in November and December 2017, Arend-Adolf G. worked in the Baghdad compound from March to July of the same year.

Asgaard actively recruits from the military and police, and has faced accusations of right-wing extremist attitudes within the group which have reportedly put it on the radar of German security services. 

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Last year, an investigation by Spiegel and broadcaster ARD revealed that imagery was displayed at the company’s Baghdad base that glorified the Nazi era, including a Reichsflag and slogans used by the Wehrmacht, the armed forces of Nazi Germany. 

Meanwhile, one employee is currently under investigation for allegedly preparing “acts of violence which are a threat to the state,” by sending death threats to the left-wing politician Martina Renner. 

According to Spiegel, the Bundeswehr has forbidden its special forces to work for the company.

“Asgaard functions as a link between Germany’s security apparatus and the far-right scene,” Nicholas Potter, an expert on right-wing extremism at the Amadeu Antonio Foundation in Berlin told VICE World News.

The Asgaard spokesperson rejected the claims of far-right sentiment within the company, and blamed the allegations on a smear campaign from a former employee.

“There are no right-wing extremist attitudes among our employees, as far as we know,” said the spokesperson. “We are not a link to the far-right scene.”

READ: Stash of illegal weapons found on suspected far-right German soldier

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Potter said the arrests were just the latest incident to highlight security concerns around Germany’s military, which has been hit with a string of far-right scandals in recent years. Earlier this month, Germany’s defence ministry said it was investigating a self-described “wolf pack” of alleged right-wing extremists in the unit that forms a guard of honour at state visits. Its alleged leader is reported to have posed for photographs in a T-shirt featuring a Nazi black sun motif.

Last year, the military counterintelligence unit opened investigations into 1,016 suspected extremists within the ranks, up from 743 the previous year, with more than 80 percent of them for far-right beliefs.

Experts say that while the hundreds of recorded cases represented only a tiny proportion of the Bundeswehr’s 183,000 active-duty personnel, the figures were nonetheless concerning because of the soldiers’ specialist military training, and access to weapons. Moreover, the number of recorded suspected cases likely represented only a fraction of the true scale of the issue.

READ: Germany is trying to get neo-Nazis out of its military

“The Bundeswehr has a serious problem with right-wing extremism: they are stockpiling weapons and even body bags, compiling lists of enemies, organising in Telegram groups and planning for societal collapse, which they call ‘Day X’,” said Potter. 

“This is a very real threat to democracy.”

Tagged:

extremism, Far right, bundeswehr, pmcs, mercenaries, worldnews

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