Syrian teen refugee accused of being ISIS scout goes on trial

A makeshift memorial to victims of the Istanbul nightclub attack was set up near Berlin's Brandenburg Gate, which was illuminated in the colours of the Turkish flag on Monday. The monument was one of the sites allegedly targeted by ISIS for an attack
A makeshift memorial to victims of the Istanbul nightclub attack was set up near Berlin's Brandenburg Gate, which was illuminated in the colours of the Turkish flag on Monday. The monument was one of the sites allegedly targeted by ISIS for an attack.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BERLIN • An alleged ISIS militant accused of scoping out potential targets for an attack in Berlin, including the Brandenburg Gate and Reichstag building, has gone on trial in Germany.

It was the country's first trial of a suspected Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant sent to Germany from Syria during the chaotic 2015 refugee influx - in contrast to "lone wolf" attacks or plots by extremists radicalised elsewhere.

The accused, identified only as Syrian national Shaas al-Mohammad, 19, allegedly fought with the Islamist militia in his war-torn homeland for two years before arriving in Germany as a refugee in 2015.

Dressed in a blue pullover and a black cap, he hid his face behind a folder as he took his seat in the courtroom. Two police trucks were parked outside the entrance.

Shaas was standing trial at a special state security court in Berlin on charges of membership of a foreign terrorist organisation, which carries a penalty of up to 10 years in jail, and military weapons law violations.

The trial comes just over two weeks after an ISIS extremist from Tunisia allegedly ploughed a truck into a Berlin Christmas market in an attack that killed 12 people.

Prosecutors say Shaas joined ISIS as a teenager in mid-2013, taking part in combat operations, handling an AK-47 assault rifle and supplying food to fighters. He arrived in Germany near the peak of a mass influx of people fleeing Syria, Iraq and other crisis-torn countries that brought nearly 900,000 asylum seekers to Europe's biggest economy in 2015.

He allegedly stayed in close contact with ISIS, repeatedly visiting Berlin until last February to check out landmark targets and busy tourist sites for an attack. Among the suspected targets was the area around the glass-domed Reichstag Parliament building, the nearby Brandenburg Gate monument and busy shopping square Alexanderplatz.

He then allegedly "passed the information about the potential attack targets on to his contacts" in ISIS, said a court statement.

"In addition, he arranged to send at least one person to Syria as a fighter and offered his services as a contact person for potential attackers in Germany," it added.

The young Syrian was arrested on March 22 last year and has been in pre-trial detention ever since. The court has set 25 hearings until April.

Germany has been shocked by a spate of ISIS-claimed attacks and some foiled plots, which a growing right-wing populist movement has blamed on the open-door refugee policy of Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The domestic security service estimates that the number of radical Islamists in Germany rose above 9,000 last year, from some 3,800 in 2011.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 05, 2017, with the headline 'Syrian teen refugee accused of being ISIS scout goes on trial'. Print Edition | Subscribe