By IAN ALLEN
During the Cold War, Berlin was considered one of the world’s paramount intelligence hotspots —a gathering place for spies from Western Europe, the Soviet bloc, America, and beyond. But recent developments in the German capital show that the city’s illustrious espionage heritage is far from over. On Wednesday, German authorities announced the arrest of a 56-year-old man on charges of spying on Western Saharan opposition activists operating on German soil. The man, who has been identified only as “Mohammed B.”, is reportedly a German-Moroccan dual citizen, and the statement by the German prosecutor’s office hints that he is an accredited intelligence officer.
According to the official press release by the prosecutor, Mohammed B. was arrested for operating as an unregistered agent of the Moroccan intelligence services. His main targets appear to have consisted of activists involved with the POLISARIO Front, the main political vehicle of the Western Saharan independence movement, which seeks to separate the territory from Moroccan control. POLISARIO, along with its military wing, the Sahrawi People’s Liberation Army, was founded after 1975, when Morocco unilaterally annexed the former Spanish colony.
A police spokesman in Berlin said German authorities searched Mohammed B’s apartment, as well as businesses and houses belonging to “two other suspects”, who do not appear to have been apprehended. The arrest took place exactly a week after the German government summarily expelled four Syrian diplomats, whom it accused of engaging in “activities incompatible with their diplomatic status” —code language for espionage. The diplomats, three men and a woman, were given three days to leave Germany, after they were caught spying on Syrian pro-opposition activists operating in Germany.
Speaking about the arrests on Wednesday, Claudia Schmid, chief operating officer for the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution in Berlin, said that Syrian intelligence routinely employs blackmail to recruit informants among the Syrian expatriate community in Germany. In an address to Berlin’s city legislature, Schmid revealed that the expelled Syrian diplomats were able to enlist informers by threatening members of their families back in Syria. The Syrian and Moroccan governments have not yet commented on the detentions and expulsions.