Nearly four years ago, on December 19th 2016, an islamist terrorist attack killed 12 people and injured 48 others when a man drove a large truck into a crowd gathered outside the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church for a Christmas market in Berlin Germany. The truck's automatic brakes had brought the vehicle to a standstill after about 80 meters, preventing even more deaths. The suspect had reportedly escaped the scene initiating a manhunt for the suspect.
Initial reports stated that officers arrested a suspect near the scene who was suspected of driving the truck. Berlin police spokesman Winfried Wenzel told the paper that after the truck came to a stop, the suspect fled in the direction of Tiergarten park. A witness followed the suspect for over a mile and pointed him out to police, who arrested him near the Victory Column monument. The dpa press agency reported that the suspect used multiple names, making it difficult for authorities to confirm his actual identity. The suspect had initially been identified as Naved B. in a report which stated he had entere the country using a fake name. The suspect had come to Germany as a refugee from Pakistan just months prior to the attack. The suspect, Naved B. has denied involvement in the attack. Der Tagesspiegel reported that the suspect was known to police for multiple minor offenses prior to the attack but had not made the radar of anti-terror authorities. However, just one day after the attack, it was reported that the suspect Naved B. had been released from custody due to a lack of evidence linking him to the attack. Following his release, the German capital was placed on high alert as the actual perpetrator remained at large.
According to reports, the truck had been stolen from a worksite across the border in Poland. Police discovered a dead man, a Polish national, in the passenger seat of the truck following the attack. Investigators have stated that the man was shot to death.
A new nationwide manhunt was launched after, according to officials, identity papers for Tunisian migrant Anis Amri were found inside the cabin of the truck used in the attack days after. Additionally, investigators had also discovered Amri’s DNA inside the truck. By December 23rd, four days after the deadly terrorist attack, after passing through France and the Netherlands, Anis Amri was killed by Italian police after he was stopped by two officers standing near a train station in the northern city of Milan. When asked to see his papers, Amri reportedly pulled out a gun and shot one of the officers before he was shot and killed in response. Following his death, a video was released by the Islamic State claiming responsibility, in which Amri is scene pledging his allegiance to the Islamic State’s leader Abu Baghdadi, whom himself was killed in a 2019 U.S. raid inside northern Syria.
Amri left Tunisia five years prior to the attack, in 2011, as an illegal immigrant and spent four years in six different prisons in Italy after burning down a migrant school on an island of Sicily. Furthermore, according to reports, Italy officially classified Amri as a terror risk after he threatened to decapitate a Christian cellmate in prison in Palermo in 2014. Amri arrived in Germany in July 2015 and in June 2016, Amri requested asylum in Germany but was denied. A deportation process was started thereafter. Amri spent time in pre-deportation detention in Germany after his asylum application was rejected. However, attempts to deport Amri failed because officials were unable to establish his identity beyond doubt. One German security official stated the suspect had forged documents. According to reports Anis Amri used as many as 14 aliases. Amri would go on to commit a terrorist act just six months later.
Were German authorities aware of Amri’s links to terrorism and potential for violence? Berlin prosecutors revealed that they initially launched an investigation into Amri in March 2016 following a tip from federal security agencies which warned Amri was planning a robbery in order to fund the purchase of automatic firearms to be used in a terrorist attack. According to reports, Amri was placed under surveillance for a period of six months and it was determined there was no evidence to substantiate the original warning and the surveillance was called off in September 2016 — three months before the attack.
Additionally, Moroccan law enforcement agencies warned Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service about the threat posed by Amri and his potential links with the Islamic State on September 19 and again on October 11th, 2016. Was the warning from Moroccan intelligence received before or after the surveillance on Amri was called off in September 2016? Interestingly, it was revealed that Anis Amri was also placed on the United States no-fly list months before the attack after it was discovered he had researched the construction of explosive devices and communicated with ISIS leaders on at least one occasion via the group’s Telegram Messenger.
Even more unsettling, it was reported that German security agencies had exchanged information as recently as one month prior to the attack, in November 2016 which tied Anis Amri to Islamist militants. Ralf Jaeger, interior minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, had revealed that Amri was known to German security services to be in contact with radical Islamist groups. It was reported that German security officials believe Amri was linked to a recruitment network for ISIS operating in Germany and had reportedly communicated with the leader of the network, Abu Walaa. One month prior to the attack, Walaa and four others were arrested and charged with terrorism offenses. Under what circumstances were Walaa and his associates arrested? Why was Amri not arrested during this operation?
In total, according to reports, the German counterterrorism committee had discussed Amri’s case at least seven times prior to the attack but no action to prosecute him was ever made. Why not? German politicians called for a federal investigation into the Amri case after new documents emerged contradicting police claims that he was viewed as a low level threat. That report, from August 2016, admitted Amri posed a “growing violent threat”, two months after physical surveillance was called off. Especially after the information received in November 2016 which revealed Amri was communicating with Abu Walla, who infamously ran an ISIS recruitment operation in Germany. These set of facts represent a major breakdown of the German national security apparatus which resulted in failure to prevent a deadly terrorist attack. In response, a major national debate would ensue over these glaring failures.
Was Anis Amri part of a larger network of individuals who remain at large? According to reports, information provided to German security services from the United Arab Emirates in early 2017 said Anis Amri had received an order from a squad within the Islamic State to carry out his attack. The federal public prosecutor’s office and the BKA federal police claimed they were looking into the information provided by the UAE, adding that German authorities considered the source to be reliable.
Others have been arrested in connection to the plot. On December 28th, 2016, German security forces raided the home and business premises of a new suspect amid the investigation into Christmas market attack with whom Amri communicated with by text and video before the attack. The suspect was not named. “Further investigations indicated that he could have been involved in the attack,” prosecutors said. However, the suspect was later released after “further investigation” showed he was not the contact person of Amri.
By January 2017, a Tunisian man identified as Bilel A. was arrested amid the investigation into the 2016 Christmas market attack. The suspect reportedly had dinner with Anis Amri the day before the attack. Prosecutors claimed, “We are investigating him for possible participation in the attack.”
According to reports, even Spanish police had investigated whether Amri was in contact with a possible extremist in their country, on a tip from German authorities.
In July 2017, a Russian suspect, identified as Magomed-Ali C., had been arrrested over a plot to bomb a target in Germany. Magomed-Ali C. had stored large quantities of the explosive TATP in his apartment in Berlin in October 2016, two months before Amri’s December 2016 attack. According to reports, the suspect had planned the bombing along with Anis Amri, the prime suspect in the 2016 Berlin Christmas market attack as well as a French man, identified as Clement B., whom was arrested in France in April 2017, just four months after the attack. It remains unclear why Amri acted alone, prior to the bomb plot proceeding.
By July 2018, Germany’s Federal Supreme Court issued an arrest warrant for a Tunisian man, identified as Meher D., who is suspected of being the mastermind behind the 2016 Christmas market attack in Berlin. According to reports, the suspect played a significant role in motivating Amri to carry out the attack. Security officials say Meher D. left Tunisia in 2015 to join Islamic State in Libya and that he began communicating with Amri in the autumn of 2016 via the Whatsapp application.
It remains unclear whether even more outstanding suspects were involved the planning of the December 2016 Christmas market attack in Berlin, Germany. However, the multiple failures on the part of security services leading up to the attack should not be forgotten and those responsible should be held accountable.