On December 19th a major terrorist incident shook the Federal Republic of Germany, when a heavy truck at fairly high speech rushed through a Christmas market in Berlin, killing on the spot 12 people and wounding 50. The truck, as was made known later, was driven by the Tunisian terrorist Ani Amri, who before carrying out his terrorist attack in Berlin, had killed the Polish driver of the truck with his pistol.
In the midst of the chaotic scene on the market, the Tunisian driver managed to escape. He was able to travel through Holland and France before arriving in Italy. On December 22nd the 24 year old terrorist travelled by train from Turin to Milano. Having arrived in Sesto San Giovanni (Milano) in the early morning hours December 23rd , a shootout took place between Amri and the Milanese Police during a routine police control. Amri wounded one policeman before being shot dead.
The facts as known so far and the security dilemma
Between end of December 2016 and the beginning of January 2017 more facts emerged which shed light on how the Berlin terrorist attack could occur. What becomes more and more evident is the “dilemma” in which some German Security agencies were caught. The argument that there was apparently not enough “evidence” that would have justified a court procedure to put Amri for several months in a detention center and force him to leave the country, represents a real “Achilles heel”. After the assault, a major “blame game” began. The Interior Minister of the federal state North- Rhine Westphalia, Jäger(SPD) during a hearing which was held in the North Rhine Westphalian federal parliament, being accused by the opposition parties to have acted “negligently” by not detaining Amri, rejected the accusation. According to Jäger, the Tunisian State authorities had not sent papers that they would take Amri back. The Tunisian officials claimed that they had not received the right names of Amri (who used 14 (!) different “Alias” names) so as to send the papers which were necessary to expel Amri in time. Lack of clarity also exists about the Berlin-based Center for terrorist Analysis (GTAZ) which consists out of 40 security agencies. Having discussed seven times the case of Amri, it came to the conclusion in November 2016, that Amri could not be qualified as a “dangerous and potential attacker” and that there was “lack of evidence” that could be used in court, in order to detain him.
The fact is, that the Berlin attack was not carried out by an unknown “dangerous person” but that the terrorist Anis Amri had been known to the German Security Authorities for at least two years and had been qualified as a “potential attacker”, who had contact with the IS. Yet Anis Amri, since summer 2015 could freely move in the Republic of Germany. What can be observed is a pattern very similar to what Europe witnessed after the French and Belgian Terrorist massacres, where the biggest obstacle to efficiently react was a mixture between “gross misevaluation” concerning the potential candidates for a terrorist attack by relevant security agencies and a notorious lack of “cooperation” among the relevant security agencies. In addition it turned out that the Tunisian government authorities apparently did not react to the requests by the German, and in the years before by the Italian agencies to send the necessary documents so that Amri could be expelled and sent back to his country of origin. The latest news is that representatives of the Tunisian Interior Ministry, according to ZDF (19.01.2017) were claiming to have received “false names” concerning Amri from the North Rhine Westphalia Interior Ministry, that had made an identification of Amri impossible.
How the case of Amri begins
According to a Der Spiegel report which was published 30.12. 2016, followed by a second dossier in the first week of January 2017, the case of Anis Amri dates back to spring 2011. During the Arab Spring in Tunisia the 18 year old Amri traveled to Europe, trying to escape from the Tunisian police who looked for him after he had stolen a truck. After arriving in Italy he apparently continued his criminal record. In Sicily he was at the time put into a detention center for unaccompanied minors. Together with 4 other Tunisians, on October 24, 2011 he set fire to the building and beat up a guard at the center.
He was put into jail for four years. Given his violent personality, as Spiegel reports, the Italian Police already at that time suspected Amri as someone who could not be seen as an ordinary criminal. In a note written by the Catania Police it was stated that Amri was manifesting a “fundamentalist Islamic belief” and that he had a violent character. More details were transmitted to the “Strategic Anti -Terrorism Analysis Committee” which is under supervision of the Italian Interior Ministry. This Tunisian, as the Italian authorities correctly assumed, could possibly perpetrate a terrorist attack. They wanted to get rid of him as quickly as possible. He was released on 18th May 2015 and put into a center for detainees with “pending deportation” in Caltanissetta, Sicily. However given that the Tunisian authorities “refused” to take back Amri, he was released with the request to immediately leave Italy. Amri then went underground and reappeared in Germany two months later.
By the end of July 2015 he got registered in the Berlin “Office for Health and Social Affairs”. At that time he presented himself under the name of “Ahmad Zaghoul”.
The refugee wave in summer 2015
During the summer 2015 – as “Spiegel” reports – thousands and later 10.000ds of refugees arrived in Germany per day! The German Federal Border police being completely overburdened with the huge influx of refugees, often let them pass through without being able to carry through an adequate identification procedure for asylum seekers. The first registration was handled in an improvised way at that time in federal states or in the communes. There, the asylum seekers got a certificate as asylum seeker, often without a photo, which the authorities accepted as substitute for an ID card; often this was enough to ask for social security benefits. In some communes not even finger prints were taken, or if they were, the computers which were used for this, were incompatible with others. So in that way no data could be exchanged, neither with the security agencies of neighboring countries nor with the “Fingerprint Database” of the “Federal Criminal Police Office” (BKA). (One should keep in mind, as FAZ reported 20.01.2017 that while 700.000 Asylum seeker since 2015 could be “processed”, there are still 430.000 asylum seeker cases that have not been fully processed!)
The chaotic situation which existed during the summer of 2015 opened the doors for all those asylum seekers who like Amri came under false pretext and presented themselves with different identities to the Security and Migration agencies. Hence it became known that Amri presented himself in various German cities always as “another person” using 14 (!) different names, requesting each time social security payments. In one such case, in the city of Duisburg, a criminal prosecution for “fraud” was initiated against Amri but then closed since he had “disappeared”.
In spring 2016 the German Authorities succeeded to block this game of “different identities”. Since that time all asylum seekers during their first registration which includes fingerprints will be registered in a “core data system”. The fingerprints are transmitted to the German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) which examines them in the European refugee data bank Eurodac. Yet this obviously came all too late for the case of Amri.
Irregularities in the case of Amri
Already during summer 2015, as Spiegel reported, the Police in North-Rhine Westphalia got hints that Amri supposedly had contact to the “Islamic State”. He also attracted the attention of the federal prosecutor who at that time investigated the Islamic “hate preacher” Abu Wallaa. Amri supposedly played the role as mediator for Walaa. But the indications were not sufficient to open a prosecution against him.
* In February 2016 the Criminal Police Office of the Land North Rhine Westphalia (LKA) qualified Amri as “potential attacker” who could at any time perpetrate an attack. It was however difficult for the LKA to further observe him, since Amri had changed his radius of action to Berlin.
* By spring 2016 the Karlsruhe Federal Prosecutor’s office issued a court order, to have the State Criminal Police Office (LKA) of North- Rhine Westphalia listen to Amri’s telephone. The investigators discovered that Amri gathered information via Internet about how to construct a pipe bomb; he apparently also intended to get weapons from France for an attack – An AK 47 rifle, the same type of weapon with which terrorists had massacred in Paris dozens of people.
*At that time also the Berlin based “Anti –terrorism Defense Center” (Gemeinsames Terror Abwehr Zentrum ,GTAZ) began to look into the Amri case. In this center, which had been created in 2004, 40 Police services and Intelligence Services of the Federal States regularly meet to discuss measures how to contain and fight Islamic terrorism. Most of the times the responsible representatives from the German Federal Intelligence Agency (BFV), the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), the Federal Intelligence Service (BND) meet. They discuss about people representing a danger for potential terrorist attacks, on the basis of information they obtain from the Security Agencies of the German federal States, like in the case of Amri from North- Rhine Westphalia, as well as from the Federal Prosecutor’s Office. In February 2016 (see above) the Criminal Office of the state North-Rhine Westphalia (LKA) had qualified Amri as “dangerous Person” who could at any time perpetrate an attack.
*On 19th September 2016 the Moroccan Security Service (DST) sent a message to the German Intelligence Service BND and to the BKA warning them that Amri had the intention to commit a terrorist attack. The warning got renewed on October 26th .
Despite the fact that Amri was qualified as “foreign fighter” with the potential to commit a terrorist attack, the Berlin GTAZ on November 2nd concluded that Amri was just a criminal drug dealer, a boasting type, but actually represented no concrete danger. From Tunisia the information was given to the German authorities that identification papers had been sent, a condition to expel Amri and send him back to Tunisia. But all this turned out to be too late, an obvious and gross misevaluation! The security agencies could have detained Amri at that time and put him in detention for maximum 18 months. Yet they obviously declined to do so, since there was at that time no unified position among the coalition parties; there were many parliamentarians who saw harsher supervision such as application of the detention law as counterproductive to the “welcome culture”. So the tragedy began.
German Interior Minister Lothar de Maizière in the aftermath of the terrorist attack correctly stated that the State draw the lessons and begin to implement more efficient and stronger anti-terrorism measures to defend the Rule of Law. In an essay published in FAZ, 3rd January 2017, he demanded a “centralized national steering agency”, which helps to overcome the rivalries between the security agencies of the federal states and closes the security gaps. He also demanded a more efficient “law enforcement” allowing to expel more swiftly asylum seekers who didn’t get authorization to stay in Germany and if they refuse (especially if they are perceived as potential threat) keep them in detention. Among the various measures he also demanded a stronger “video surveillance”, as well as stronger notification obligation and electronic foot tackles for potentially dangerous people.
As important as it is to streamline and reform the security agencies, the whole Amri affair shows that it involves more than just the application of law. It is above all a political and cultural question and obviously what must end is the partisan view that stronger counter terrorism measures are in contrast to the “welcome culture”. What is needed is a better cooperation on the national level among the German security agencies and on a European level.