BERLIN • German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen yesterday cancelled a trip to the US and summoned military officials to discuss a spate of army scandals after the arrest of an officer suspected of planning a racially motivated attack.
Mrs von der Leyen, who has blasted "weak leadership" across the military, told her top 100 generals and admirals to come to Berlin today to discuss the latest case involving a first lieutenant and several sexual assault scandals.
"We have to ask systematically how someone with such clear right- wing extremist views, who writes a master's paper with clearly nationalistic ideas... could continue to pursue a career in the Bundeswehr (armed forces)," she told reporters.
She said it was important to address the "burning questions" of "where leadership and accountability have failed... and why", but warned that the process could take weeks and months.
She has also sent a letter to all members of the armed forces, saying she had asked the army's inspector general to examine any extremist or racist tendencies and why such problems had not been properly and fully tackled.
Meanwhile, the chief federal prosecutor's office yesterday took over the case of the 28-year-old lieutenant and a 24-year-old student from state prosecutors, citing "preliminary indications of preparations for a serious attack against the state".
We have to ask systematically how someone with such clear right-wing extremist views, who writes a master's paper with clearly nationalistic ideas... could continue to pursue a career in the (armed forces).
MRS URSULA VON DER LEYEN, German Defence Minister.
A spokesman told Reuters TV that investigators were examining materials seized during searches last week to determine if other people were also involved.
Police last week arrested the officer, who had falsely registered as a Syrian refugee in January last year, and also detained the student, who was found to possess explosives.
Prosecutors said that both men harboured "xenophobic views".
Mrs von der Leyen, a member of Dr Angela Merkel's conservatives who is often named as a possible successor to the Chancellor, had been due to meet United Nations officials and United States Defence Secretary Jim Mattis in New York and Washington this week.
Mrs von der Leyen was to go to Illkirch, the French town south of Strasbourg where the officer was based with a German brigade, for an update on the probe yesterday.
Some politicians have pushed back against the minister's sweeping criticism of the military. "She cannot and should not... claim the position of a neutral observer," Mr Lorenz Caffier, a fellow conservative who is the Interior Minister of the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and a reserve officer, told the RND newspaper chain.
Conservative lawmaker Henning Otte, head of the parliamentary defence committee, said the military had "no fundamental problem with radicalism or abuses".
But Germany's MAD military intelligence agency reported last month that there had been 275 suspected cases of right-wing extremists in the military's ranks, including some dating back to 2011, and 53 cases first identified this year.
Mrs von der Leyen emphasised that it was a minority of leaders who had failed to punish bad behaviour in the recent cases, but that most military officers took their responsibilities seriously.