taz-Recherche auf Englisch: Hannibal's Shadow Army

He is a head of a right-wing German nationwide underground network with direct connections to State Authorities.

What happened at the dark spots of German Federal Armed Forces? Foto: reuters

This text was published in German language on November 16th, 2018. Due to many requests, we hereby provide an english translation of the article. The translation was done by Daniel Zylbersztajn. The original text can be found here.

Der Original-Text auf Deutsch findet sich hier.

It is the 13th of September, 2017, a Wednesday, when an agent of the Secret Service Unit of the German Federal Armed Forces (Bundeswehr) is paying Andre S. a visit in the South Western German town of Sindelfingen, near Stuttgart. It is not the first time they meet. S. is serving in the Commando Unit of the German Special Forces Command (Kommando Spezialkräfte – KSK) in Baden-Württemberg. He is amongst the best-trained soldiers of the German Bundeswehr, an elite fighter. His extraordinary visitor today is a lieutenant colonel of the German Military Counterintelligence Unit (Militärischer Abschirmdienst, also known as MAD). He has questions concerning right-wing extremism tendencies amongst members of Andre S.’s unit.

Visits of that nature are nothing unusual for S. He has been meeting with MAD for quite some time now. The agency itself is tasked to discover and prevent extremism inside the German army. S. is a MAD informant. On that day in September, S. was allegedly receiving something in return: the MAD’s officer is supposed to have talked with him about investigations by the Prosecutor General into a secret network of men. Those men supposedly had planned to kill political opponents, politicians, activists. It is understood by the Federal Prosecutor’s Office to have been in preparation of a severe act of violence threatening the interest of the state – in other words, preparations for acts of terrorism.

André S., at his point, is already aware of police raids that have occurred in Northern Germany not very long before that. On September 13th he could have been told that further searches and interrogations would be imminent. The source of this allegation is an indictment of the Cologne District Court, which is currently sitting over the case of the MAD employee in question. He is accused of having breached his official secrecy clause.

More concretely, André S. is said to have been warned.

S. is head of a nationwide network at the centre of far-reaching investigations. His code name is Hannibal.

Preppers and Pickled Vegetables

For over a year a team of taz reporters has been trying to find an answer to the following questions: Is there a right-wing underground network in Germany in which opponents of the government connect, radicalise, and prepare themselves for armed struggle? Does this network have strong ties to German state authorities, such as the German Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution – Germany's security agency that is tasked amongst others to safeguard against threats to the national democratic order? Or even to the highest ranks of the German Bundeswehr?

During these investigations, we met so called „preppers“. Preppers are people who stock up on foods like preserved vegetables. We also looked at the inquiry of the Federal Prosecutor’s office whose officers had believed that they had discovered a right-wing terrorist group in Northern Germany. We were able to go through secret telegram chats and were able to speak with men who had been ordering books from far-right publishers – but who nevertheless saw nothing wrong with their declared nationalist German Völkish worldviews.

When we published our first larger text „Kommando Heimatschutz“ back in December 2017, we did not yet know the true identity of the person behind the pseudonym Hannibal. We had learned that Hannibal was held to be the administrator of a nationwide chat-network of so called preppers. At that time, we had reasons to ask ourselves if there could be a possibility that „Hannibal“ is an officer serving actively in the German Bundeswehr and moreover, that he may have directly helped to build an underground network from within the German Army. Today we know much more.

We are now aware of Hannibal’s true identity.

André S. was born in 1985 in the city of Halle (Saale), which, back then, was still part of the communist GDR. He became a member of the KSK, in the South West German town Calw. He is also founder and chairman of an association in which elite German combatants meet. It has a postal address in Dormagen, North Rhine-Westphalia. We also know his surname. Due to his personal rights, we are withholding his full name here.

After one year of investigations, our research leads us to a single conclusion: In many parts of Germany, but also in Switzerland and Austria, groups had been formed that tried to establish what could be seen as a state within a state. Members of these groups are policemen and soldiers, reservists, civil servants and members of intelligence services.

Once they receive a sign, once “Day X“ has arrived, they wanted to be ready to take up arms. That “Day X“ was discussed frequently in their chat-groups. Some of their plans are shockingly explicit. The German news magazine Focus called it an “Underground Army“.

We see different groups that are interconnected like a web, and our research revealed that the individual threads, again and again, led to one single individual: Hannibal.

Who is this Hannibal? How could it be that nationwide extremist cells appear to have been administrated from within the Graf-Zeppelin Barracks in Calw? How is it possible that Hannibal appears to have been warned by the MAD?

Dubious Civil Servants

It is late August in 2017: Officers acting on behalf of the General German Federal Prosecution search homes and offices in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, East Germany. They also search those belonging to a police officer and an attorney. The allegations: Individuals were suspected to have planned the apprehension or „liquidation“ of politicians and other people associated with the wider German political Left. The investigations are still ongoing today.

There is something curious about these raids. Public prosecutors did not entrust this job to civil servants of the North of Germany. There is no state police involved. Not even the state-minister for Interior Affairs of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern was notified until the very last moment, just before the raids were about to be carried out.

The raided attorney and police-officer in question did not act alone. Other men were supposed to have been part of this group, for example, a member of the German Special Police (Spezialeinsatzkommando – SEK) as well as a former soldier. In 2017 he still headed a company of the reserves preparing for an assignment at the G20 Summit in Hamburg in July 2017.

These men are all part of a broader group from northern Germany that is ready for national catastrophes such as blackouts, heavy storms, or severe food shortages, any situation really, during which the German State could no longer provide for the safety of its citizens. They usually got together in different online chat-groups. One goes by the name of „Nordkreuz“ („North Cross“), another by „Nord.Com“. Their members discussed vaccine shortages and troop movements in Eastern Europe.

A third group is merely called „Nord“ („North“). The man that supplies this particular group with confidential information and internal reports from the German Bundeswehr is Hannibal. His messages create a feeling of belonging to an inner circle and of enjoying privileges due to the provision of knowledge labelled as confidential and secret.

The fact that groups like these grew in autumn 2015 is certainly no coincidence. It is the time when the migration policy of Germany became a central national topic of debate, no lesser so inside these chatgroups. Members started to discuss, how to fight the official German migration policy.

Shooting Competition as Birthday Party Fun

On an evening in early 2017, four men, amongst them two police-officers, including one of the suspects mentioned above, met at a food-stand besides a country road near Schwerin, East Germany. They discuss warehouses in which they could hold political opponents on „Day X“.

Could the reservists’ company commander not possibly organise German Bundeswehr trucks in case of an emergency? Could such trucks avoid road-checks? Amidst the discussion, there is also the mentioning of executions. References are being made to a term that was used by Adolf Hitler in order to eliminate all Jews: the “Final Solution“. We learned all of this through people familiar with the case.

Our sources confided even more. The attorney in question is said to have organised shooting competitions for birthday parties behind his home in Rostock. Winners are said to have received a special trophy named after Mehmet Turgut. Turgut was shot in suspicious circumstances in 2004 in the same town. Those behind his so far unsolved murder are assumed to have been members of a militant far-right terror cell called National Socialist Underground (NSU). NSU is held to be connected with the killing of at least nine people.

According to investigative documents made available to taz, members of the so-called Nord Group have already set up depots stocked with fuel, food, and ammunition. For this purpose, each member is said to have paid about 600 Euros (equivalent to 680 USD or 530 GBP) into a common fund. Besides that, other people also provided support. One is owner of a shooting range near the town of Rostock, North East Germany. Although he left the chat room, he continued to sell arms to its members. Another supporter is said to be a German Bundeswehr instructor of an air base in Laage, not far from Rostock, a basis of Eurofighter fighter planes. He is supposed to have invited his friends into the secure zone of the military base after work, where they were able to fly Eurofighters in a flight simulator, after work.

The Southern Group

Following the raids of August 2017 there, the response by the Interior Minister responsible, Lorenz Caffier of the German CDU-Party, can be best described as contained. While on the one hand he ordered a so-called Prepper Commission, on the other hand, its findings so far indicated that there is apparently no problem. Even one year into the existence of this commission no report has yet been published.

This all relates to the network's Northern Group. But there are also an Eastern, Western, and Southern group – all neatly organised and following general German geographical military divisions. There even exist an Austrian and a Swiss group. In the largest and most active of these groups, the Southern group, it was Hannibal who happened to be also its administrator.

The Southern Group was also the group that the Bundeswehr soldier Franco A. happened to be a member of. The revelation of the activities of Franco A. grew to become one of the largest German Military scandals in recent history. It demonstrated the existence of a soldier accused of having planned extrem right-wing terrorist attacks, which nobody, none of his superiors, nor the MAD, seem to have noticed.

Far from being a passive member of the Southern Group, Franco A. visited Hannibal at his home once. Another time both attended a meeting inside a shooting club in the town of Albstadt, in Baden-Würtemberg, South Germany. In order not to be surveilled, they had left their phones inside the cars.

The Federal Prosecutor Investigates

Franco A. also recruited new members for the Southern Group. One of them was a weapons dealer, from whom A. had previously purchased accessories. These purchases were paid for in cash, to avoid the appearance of his name on the bill. A. told the dealer that the Southern Group was a special unit within the German Bundeswehr.

As soon as Hannibal learned about the allegations against Franco A., he immediately ordered the deletion of all chats: North, South, West, East. When questioned about this later, his excuse for this order was the safequarding of the reputation of judges, soldiers, and civil servants, principally those members with a good public reputation, so that their names would not be tarnished through any association with Franco A. The exposure of Franco A. caused the federal prosecutor to initiate investigations. This caused the network to come under pressure.

A Seizure of the Barracks

As in the north, group members in the south of Germany set up safe meeting places and accommodation for “Day X “. During Hannibal’s interrogation, the investigators were trying to find out how many of these “safe-houses“ actually existed in Germany and where these were. His answer was: everywhere. Amongst the locations he suggested in the chat-room he even cited the car dealership of his own parents.

It still remains unclear, what precisely the definition of a safe-house in accordance to these groups is, and it remains a delicate problem for the investigative team of the federal prosecutor.

So far they became aware that safe-houses exist in Nuremberg and Ulm, in Lenggries and Bad Tölz, and even the Graf-Zeppelin Barracks in Calw, where the KSK has its headquarters, was defined as such a place – assuming that in an emergency, as the members refer to it, the barracks would have been successfully seized by them.

The arrest of Franco A. led to a nationwide search inside Bundeswehr barracks. Officers were on the general lookout for Nazi memorabilia, whilst the political outlook of all soldiers is being checked. The Ministry for Defence wants to catch soldiers like Franco A. in the future. Soldiers with associations to extreme right movements are expelled. But Hannibal remains unaffected by any of these measures.

The pseudonym Hannibal and the real name of André S. eventually became currency amongst security policymakers inside the German Parliament, last year. MAD was forced to admit that it was familiar with the case of Hannibal for quite some time, as an open and willing informer. Even though it is now an open secret that there are groups beyond the Northern Group, they are being labelled as harmless, as with people who are just hoarding food in tins. On the other hand, the MAD is keen to establish one question: What does Hannibal know about a farewell party that directly led to a trial?

Heroes of the Extreme Right

In spring 2017 a KSK company commander was celebrating his farewell at a shooting range near Stuttgart. As part of the celebration, his soldiers allegedly prepared a parkour course for him, in which he was supposed to shoot with bow and arrow, to throw heads of pigs. They even invited a woman to have sex with him as a reward. She later testified, that it came to no sexual intercourse, because the commander was too drunk. And she also remembered how songs by the extreme right band „Sturmwehr“ were being played that night and how the company commander and others had given Nazi salutes concurrently.

When taz wanted to know from MAD, if Hannibal was one of the people present that evening, we received no answer. MAD has an interest to protect Hannibal because MAD has almost no informants inside KSK, which makes Hannibal valuable. The Commando Unit operates independently by design. In 2004, the now infamous KSK-Commander Reinhard Günzel was expelled without any honours, because of his defence of an anti-Semitic speech by Martin Hohmann. Today, Hohmann is a member of the German parliament for the right-wing Party „Alternative für Deutschland“ (AfD). Günzel, however, became a new hero of the far right.

E-Mail Contact

In September, we asked the German Ministry for Defence about an organisation by the name of Uniter. The organisation was founded by Hannibal many years ago. It connects both former and active members of the German Special Forces. A spokesperson of the Ministry responded: The Ministry has no knowledge of Uniter beyond those facts which are „publicly accessible“. That was remarkable. At the time of the information request, Hannibal had already been an informant for the MAD. MAD is directly subordinated to the Ministry of Defence.

It is, of course, a given fact, that the Federal Government stands under no obligation to provide the press with access to information that was obtained through its intelligence agencies. However, we believe it is neither necessary to lie.

We also asked the Ministry for Defence, weather Uniter uses Bundeswehr properties, for example for training purposes? In its response, the Ministry wrote: „There is no information available on this subject.“ We asked: Does the Ministry know that KSK-Soldiers are training as preppers? „No information.“

Back in April 2018, when we finally learned of Hannibal’s true identity, we contacted André S. by E-mail. He replied only 23 minutes later.

S. wrote to us: „As a general rule, we do not write to, nor communicate with the press, as the majority of our members are obliged to upkeep full confidentiality. Any links that members may have could affect their lives or that of their families.“ Moreover, he warned: „Should we receive further questions from you, what we understand to be an attempt of harassment, we will have no other option but to inform the MAD etc. of this.“

Uniter is an organisation, whose founder fed confidential information to a nationwide underground chat-network, that being the same network, that had Franco A. listed amongst its members, a Soldier, who was under the suspicion of having planned acts of terrorism. It is also the same network, in which members discussed the use of German Bundeswehr trucks to lock up political opponents on “Day X“. We learn: This organisation, Uniter, run by André S., has no hesitation to contact the MAD when it is confronted with questions by the german press.

Connecting the Elite of the Bundeswehr

On the grounds of this information, there can be no doubt, that we should, therefore, be rather curious what Uniter is all about. The Latin word uniter translates as “united as one“. The organisation aims in that sense to connect different elites from inside the German Bundeswehr. There are good reasons for this: KSK-Soldiers frequently leave the service at the age of 35. When they leave, their foreign deployments also stop – alongside, soldiers’ special hazard and deployment pay also ceases.

This means that such soldiers have suddenly far less money at their disposal. Uniter could be a source of help in these situations. The network gives current and former soldiers the ability to support each other. As a result, many of them have founded security firms or martial arts schools, others are still at the military. Uniter's online shop sells ties, cufflinks, and signet rings bearing the Uniter emblem, a sword and a shield surrounded by an oak leaf wreath.

On its Facebook page, Uniter organises events like, recently, a march to a ruined castle in Baden-Württemberg to honour veterans. Another time, Uniter members met in Bundeswehr barracks near Berlin. On that occasion, the organisation showed itself openly to interested parties. One group even invited the taz.

On a Saturday morning in September 2018 in a martial arts school in Berlin-Köpenick, its Russian instructor explained that knife-fighting required significant practice, even years, as it would be one of the most dangerous disciplines. The men he is teaching, an airport security worker, a bodyguard, and a police instructor, follow the movements they are shown. They want to be prepared.

Using plastic knives, they practice what it would be like to cut somebody’s throat. „To kill someone with a knife, you have to hit this person in the thigh, then in the belly, then in the throat“, explains the instructor in Russian. One of the men has to translate these words. He shortens the instruction to much simpler words. „Cut, cut, cut.“

Just a Game?

Just like the chat groups, Uniter is also divided into Northern, Southern, Eastern and Western districts, and Swiss and Austrian offshoots. Most members do not know each other beyond their own regional areas. In the Eastern District, one of the leaders is a police instructor. However, Uniter also engaged in collections for the homeless; the organisation aims to be part of a knightly order. Several of its members are Freemasons.

Without being asked, the police instructor at the training explained in a conversation with taz, that every new member is examined. He assured that extremism was not tolerated. The same claim can be found in the statutes of the organisation.

Franco A. recommended Uniter to his arms dealer. The organisation denies that A. had formally been one of its members.

At a certain point, MAD becomes interested in Uniter. MAD is keen for Hannibal to explain what he does inside the organisation. His own political outlook seems not to be subject of any deeper investigations, however.

When investigators of the Federal Criminal Police (Bundeskriminalamt – BKA) asked André S. last year what exactly those preppers are preparing for, he replied: These chats were just playful exercises. He added that everybody in the state’s service would have made healthy preparations these days.

Is it really just a game?

Hannibal wrote in the Southern chat group that his parent’s car dealership would be a suitable site for a safe-house. During a search there, investigators found practice grenades, they were property of the German Bundeswehr, as well as detonators. At the time, in September of 2017, they asked him if he had anything to say about these items. They also reminded him that he did not have to incriminate himself. Hannibal chose not to incriminate himself.

In October 2017 one of Hannibal’s contacts, MAD Lieutenant Colonel Peter W. was questioned by the German military’s disciplinary office. They accused him of having disclosed secret internal affairs.

Peter W. is the agency’s contact to the Federal Prosecutor General and to the Federal Criminal Police. It is the Prosecutor’s Office in Cologne that has now brought charges against him.

The Prosecutor General, however, did not list Hannibal as an accused. Hannibal has since left the KSK.

When in November of this year, a few days before this article was published, the head of the MAD, Christof Gramm, was questioned by the German Parliament, he wanted to sound reassuring: „We were not able to find any violent right-wing extremists“. He added: „Therefore we believe that a network connecting violent extremists within the German Bundeswehr does not exist.“

After this text was published in German language on November 16th, 2018, the Defence Committee and the Comitee for Homeland Security in German Parliament demanded reports by Federal Prosecutors and by Representatives of MAD, BfV and BND, the three Federal German Intelligence Agencies. The Parliamentarian Comittee to control the work of Germany's Secret Services started its own Investigations.

If you have relevant information on that topic or on other relevant topics that you want to share with us, please get in touch with us.

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Hannibals Schattennetzwerk

Hintergründe zum Prozess gegen Franco A.

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