German authorities are investigating 40 cases in which Islamic militants are suspected of having entered the country with the recent flood of refugees from the Middle East, the federal police said on Wednesday.
In the past, the German government has played down the risks of Islamic State fighters entering Europe with the tide of migrants, in part to avoid exacerbating public concerns about the influx, which hit a record 1.1 million last year.
But the head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency Hans-Georg Maassen told a conference last week that although there were more efficient ways to smuggle in fighters, Islamic State appeared to have sent some via the Balkan route from Greece in order to fan fears about refugees and “send a political signal”.
“I am not telling you a secret when I say that I am concerned about the high number of migrants whose identities we don’t know because they had no papers when they entered the country,” Maassen said.
A spokeswoman for the Bundeskriminalamt (BKA), or federal police, said there had been 369 warnings about possible extremists entering the country since the influx of refugees accelerated last year, of which 40 merited further investigation by federal and state authorities.
That represents a sharp increase from the 213 warnings and 18 investigations that the police had recorded in early January.
“German security officials have indications that members and supporters of terrorist organisations are being smuggled in with refugees in a targeted, organised way in order to launch attacks in Germany,” the BKA spokeswoman said, noting however that there was no definitive confirmation of this.