Friday, December 23, 2016

A Repeat of Nice in Berlin - Terror Attack on Christmas Market

Berlin, on the night of 19th December 2016, became a target of an Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terror attack when a Scania R-450 semi-trailer truck belonging to a Polish delivery company Ustugi Transportowe (Transport Services) laden with steel beams meant to be delivered to ThyssenKrupp, plowed into a crowd of holiday revelers at the market in front of Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church at Breitscheidplatz killing 12 people and injuring 48 others. The black semi-trailer with Polish license plates drove into the sidewalk at the market at about 8.00 pm barreling more than 200 feet, according to eyewitnesses. 

The Berlin Attack was identical to the attack carried out by a Tunisian-born French citizen during the Bastille Day celebrations in July 2016 in Nice, France which claimed the lives of 86 innocent civilians. In both the attacks the perpetrators were of Tunisian origin and the responsibility for the attacks was claimed by the ISIS. The attacker, later identified as a 23 year old Tunisian, Anis Amri took over the truck driven by a Polish citizen identified as Lukasz Urban before driving into the crowd at the Christmas market. A suspect, Naved Baloch of Pakistani origin was detained briefly but was released for want of evidence. Amri was known to German intelligence and was under surveillance for trying to acquire weapons. (It is indeed strange that most of the jihadi terrorists responsible for carrying out attacks in Europe since January 2015 have had a police record or were placed under surveillance of intelligence agencies at some point of time). After the truck attack in Nice and many attacks in Israel using the same modus operandi, namely, ramming a vehicle into a crowd, or using Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED), the European agencies ought to have been alert to movement of suspicious heavy vehicles near markets and religious congregations. In fact the training manuals of ISIS and Al Qaeda contain details of carrying out a successful vehicular ramming attack. 

Al-Qaida published several training manuals on how to carry out a successful vehicular ramming attack since Inspire magazines volumes 1 & 2 (2010). In the 13th (2014) and 16th (2016) Volumes of Inspire magazine, the organization provided examples of successful vehicular ramming attacks, noting the ramming of Canadian soldiers and the attack in Nice as exemplary lone wolf attacks.

ISIS as well published its own “user manuals” on how to carry out a successful vehicular ramming attack; the most recent of which was published just a few weeks before the Berlin attack (Rumiyah, Issue 3, November 7, 2016). The publication calls for the individuals to initiate vehicular ramming attacks, pointing out the benefits of such attacks, giving detailed instructions on how to select and operate the vehicles and recommending the types of targets.

The advantages, according to the article, of using vehicles for vehicular ramming attack are the fact that a vehicle can serve as 'a weapon' which is easy to use for anyone who knows how to drive, it is significantly less suspicious than other weapons (such as a knife, for example), it is easy to obtain and can cause a large numbers of casualties. The organization summarizes these advantages: “It is for this obvious reason that using a vehicle is one of the most comprehensive methods of attack, as it presents the opportunity for just terror for anyone possessing the ability to drive a vehicle. Likewise, it is one of the safest and easiest weapons one could employ against the kuffar, while being from amongst the most lethal methods of attack and the most successful in harvesting large numbers of the kuffar”.

ISIS notes that the vehicle of choice to carry out these attacks needs to be heavy weight and as large as possible while still being able to reach high speeds. Vehicles can be bought, rented, lent, and if necessary, even acquired by theft or kidnapping of the driver.

Finally, the article provides several targets of choice such as outdoors events and/or markets, pedestrian crowded streets, festivals, parades and political rallies.[1]

To contend or conclude that the attacks in Nice and Berlin were “ISIS inspired” lone wolf attacks is utterly idiotic. The Berlin attack is still under investigation and as yet it is not clear as to how the perpetrator or perpetrators got hold of the truck which was used in the attack. This attack seemed to have been carefully planned and executed and the target, namely, the Christmas market was not randomly chosen. This is evident from the extract given above.

The writing was on the wall!
Europe had been on the crosshairs since the beginning of January 2015 when the Paris office of Charlie Hebdo was attacked by Islamist gunmen. This incident was followed by the Kosher Market hostage taking and later the November 2015 attacks in Paris and the Brussels airport bombings in March 2016. Germany itself witnessed some not so major terrorist incidents in 2016 and it was not a question of if but when Berlin would be targeted by ISIS.

In the beginning of December 2016, European Union’s law enforcement agency Europol warned that some intelligence services anticipated that several dozen people directed by the ISIS may be in Europe to commit terrorist attacks. Europol also stated in addition to France and Belgium, all other EU member states which were part of the US-led coalition against the Islamic State may be targeted by terrorists. Notwithstanding these alerts or warnings, Germany was unable to thwart the present attack indicating a failure of some sort, either in coordination between various security agencies within the German Republic or the threat assessment level pertaining to individuals who pose grave threat to national security. For years, according to critics  a lack of information-sharing was slowing down and weakening the effectiveness of Germany’s patchwork of federal and regional security agencies.

Within Germany’s federalized system, each of the country’s 16 states has its own state police force as well as its own domestic intelligence service, in addition to various federal agencies operating nation-wide.

The core problem, officials say, is that — partly due to outdated IT systems, and partly to Germany’s strict laws regarding data privacy — information obtained by investigators is currently stored by different services in separate information pools, which exist in parallel.

“You could say, ‘too many ‘pools’ spoil the broth,’” De Maizière said in a November 2016 address to the annual conference of Germany’s Federal Criminal Office (BKA). “They unnecessarily duplicate data and include the high risk of inconsistent, incomplete and inaccurate data.”

Officials can only access individual pools, rather than all of them at the same time, De Maizière complained back in November.

Likewise, on the European level, he has complained about the lack of data-sharing between EU intelligence and security agencies.

Germany’s Federal Crime Office (BKA) is monitoring 530 so-called Gefährder, radicalized individuals who officials suspect may commit serious crimes such as a terror attack or murder.

It is highly unlikely that redressing this defect would secure Germany from future attacks. The resources of the federal and state agencies have been stretched, thanks to the Merkel government’s foolish and short-sighted policy of allowing more than a million so-called refugees from the war zones of Syria and Iraq to enter the country without any system of vetting or verification. Thus the agencies were burdened with a herculean task overnight. (Around 1.2 million Muslims entered the country between May 2011 and the end of 2015).

It must be emphasized that the European governments must concentrate their efforts on tackling Islamist extremists owing allegiance to the ISIS rather than on Islamophobia.

[Update: Anis Amri, the Tunisian attacker was reportedly shot dead by Italian Police officers in the Italian city of Milan during a routine identity check on 23rd December 2016.

What started as a routine police check ended in the death of the Berlin attacker. Two police officers on a regular early morning patrol spotted a man acting suspiciously at 3:00 a.m. local time at a train station in Milan's working class neighborhood of Sesto San Giovanni. They approached the man, unaware of the fact that he was Anis Amri and asked for his papers. He reached into his pocket and instead of pulling out documents, he pulled out a .22-caliber pistol and shot one of the officers, who returned fire and shot him dead].

[1] The Berlin Vehicular Ramming Attack – What We Know & Insight from ICT Experts, International Institute for Counter Terrorism, IDC Herzliya, Israel