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Berlin: The Islamist Terror Attack of 2016 and the Authorities’ Failures

During the terror attack at one of the main Berlin Christmas markets on December 19th, 2016, twelve people were murdered by the Islamist Anis Amri. Before and after the crime, the German authorities kept on failing.

Nada Cizmar from Czechia had been in Germany for a long time. In 2016, she left her son and husband in Dresden and moved to Berlin. Whether she would have returned to her family later is a question that will never be answered because she was murdered when she visited the Christmas market at ‘Breitscheidplatz’ square on the day of the terror attack.

Ignored Warnings

She was 34 when she was run over by a huge truck stolen and driven by the Islamist terrorist Anis Amri, who should not have had the opportunity to murder anyone on that day, because the authorities could have known he was a threat, a living time bomb, had they done their homework. But warnings were ignored.

Twelve people were murdered in the Islamist attack. Photo: Emilio Espardo

The other victims were Anna and Georgiy Bagratuni, Sebastian Berlin, Fabrizia Di Lorenzo, Dalia Elyakim, Christoph Herrlich, Klaus Jacob, Angelika Klösters, Dorit Krebs, Lukasz Urban and Peter Völker. One of them was the official driver of the truck. Amri shot him before the attack. The other casualties were Christmas market visitors from Germany, Ukraine, Israel and Italy.

Pattern of Failures

It was not the first time the authorities failed in connection with a terror attack in Germany. There is a pattern. These are only some examples:

  • In September of 1972, Palestinian terrorists of the organization Black September murdered twelve members of the Israeli Olympic team in Munich. In part, grave mistakes by the police led to the bloodbath.
  • In 1977, when Hanns Martin Schleyer, the President of the Employer Association, was taken hostage by members of the radical left-wing ‘Red Army Faction’ from Germany, the West German authorities could have found and possibly freed him, had they not messed up their own communication.
  • The German authorities failed completely when the radical right-wing terror group NSU murdered immigrants and one police officer between 2000 and 2007. Missing documents and other issues led to an investigation chaos.
  • Before the terror attacks in New York City and Arlington (Virginia) on September 11th, 2001, the authorities failed to identify and stop the ‘Hamburg cell’ which included Mohammed Atta, one of the ringleaders of the worst Islamist terrorist attacks of all time.

Communication with Islamic State

At that Christmas market in Berlin, as many as 55 people were injured in Amri’s attack. Some of them still need care today, three years after the crime. What police officers and other helpers saw at the scene on December 19th, 2016, led to traumas. Ninety-two individuals needed to be treated.

On that terrible day, Anis Amei approached the truck at a parking lot and shot the Polish driver. Then he drove the heavy vehicle to ‘Breitscheidplatz’ where he circled the crowded Christmas market several times while communicating with his friends from the Islamic State. Then he drove the truck straight into the crowd on the market.

He destroyed several stalls and ran over the victims. The only reason Amri did not murder many more people is a security system the truck was equipped with. Because of the collision with those stalls, an automatic brake was applied. The Swedish-made Scania truck could not be moved anymore.

Wrong Implications Drawn

Anis Amri fled the scene. At 8:02 p.m., the first call reached Berlin’s police department. Soon, a suspect was arrested but released again shortly after because he had nothing to do with the terror act. In the meantime, Anis Amri left Germany and went to Italy via the Netherlands and France.

Soon it turned out the Moroccan intelligence had warned the German authorities about Amri months before the murders. They told both the Federal Intelligence Service and the Federal Criminal Police Office that Amri was in contact with the Islamic State. On top of it all, the public learned the German authorities had actually observed him for a while.

But those in charge came to the conclusion he was just a criminal who was in the process of turning away from jihadism. That is why they saw no opportunity to arrest him. Data extracted from Amri’s phone showed he went to that same Christmas market several times before launching his terror attack. And he spoke to an Islamic State contact several times.

Wrong Assumption

On the day after the attack, the German police asked witnesses for help, once they had noticed they had arrested the wrong man. For far too long, police assumed they had the right guy. This aspect had negative implications on the investigation during the hours right after the crime.

Three years later, the Christmas market is crowded again. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

The German authorities did not follow their own guidelines for cases like the Berlin terror attack because they assumed the culprit was behind bars. They should have questioned known Islamists in the city in order to extract information about Amri. And they messed up the investigation on site.

A suspension of deportation document that contained the terrorist’s name was found in the truck he used as a weapon a day after the attack. By that time, Amri had already left the country. In spite of the document they finally had found, the German authorities said it did not prove Amri had anything to do with the bloodbath at the Christmas market, which is one of the weirdest aspects of them all.

Memorial at Christmas Market

It took until December 21st, 2016. On that day, the investigators understood who was responsible. They placed a high bounty on Amri’s head. On December 23rd, Anis Amri was shot dead by Italian police after he had opened fire on them when he was stopped in Sesto San Giovanni near Milan.

Helper arrived at the scene shortly after (:00 p.m. on December 19th, 2016. Photo: Andreas Trojak

Three weeks after the terror attack, Germany’s Minister of Justice Heiko Maas, who is Foreign Minister today, admitted mistakes had been made. A special investigator commissioned by the Berlin Senate came up with a report in late 2017, in which he listed several failures. A board of inquiry by the Berlin Bundestag is still looking into the matter now, in 2019.

Today, the same Christmas market is crowded. Most visitors do not even notice the small memorial for the victims on the stairs in front of Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church and a symbolic crack on the ground, made out of metal. People are in Christmas mode, drinking hot wine punch and walking across the market with all its lights and stalls.

Governing Mayor Müller Commemorates Victims

Tonight, exactly three years after the terror attack, Berlin’s Governing Mayor Michael Müller and the Speaker of the Berlin House of Representatives, Ralf Wieland, were going to place a wrath at the memorial. In advance, Müller stated everyone was thinking of the victims of this “cowardly act” with a lot of sadness.

The events at ‘Breitscheidplatz’ three years ago would never be forgotten. It was important not to let crimes of this kind drive a wedge into society. “Insecurity and fear should not be ruling our lives”, Müller said. At the memorial, relatives of the Israeli victim will speak tonight as well. So will a pastor.