"An Attack is Expected" – Seite 1
On 17 February 2016, 17 men and women gathered in the Berlin district of Treptow for a secret meeting. They talked about the terrorist threat in Germany, about possible attacks. Had their meeting run a different course, twelve people might still be alive.
The meeting took place at 10:30 am in a former Prussian barracks, on the second floor in A242, a generic meeting room. This is the address of the Joint Counterterrorism Center (GTAZ), Germany's response to September 11, 2001: a coordination center for all German authorities who are fighting terrorism. The GTAZ is the heart and brains of German anti-terrorism efforts. These officials make decisions about life and death, going through lists of potential assassins. On one such list that morning was the name Anis Amri.
Amri was 24 years old, an asylum seeker from Tunisia. The photos in the files showed a young adult with dark curls. In the past few years, hundreds of thousands of men from Arab countries had come to Europe, most of whom are peaceful. Was Amri different, a terrorist? That was the question the officials were asking.
Amri had spoken out loud about "launching Islamic attacks" and said he planned to procure "large-caliber automatic weapons" in France. Citing these statements, an undercover agent from North Rhine-Westphalia had warned investigators a few days earlier. "They kill Muslims every day, so I have to kill them," Amri was reported to have said.
Four policemen from North Rhine-Westphalia also took part in the GTAZ meeting in Berlin. They were worried; they believed their informer. "On the basis of the available findings, it can presently be assumed that Amri will carry out his attack plans on a persistent and long-term basis," they noted in a memo after the Berlin meeting.
Their colleagues from the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), on the other hand, reacted more coolly to the warning. The group merely agreed to take the case "seriously." The BKA concluded: "The occurrence of a dangerous event in the form of an attack by Amri" is "rather unlikely." In other words: no imminent danger. From this moment on, this was the official assessment of the GTAZ. The document was five pages long, dated February 29, 2016, and is still today classified as "secret," even though ZEIT was able to see it. Two authorities, two views.
The tragedy is that the wrong view prevailed, and was never corrected.
The North Rhine-Westphalian analysis, on the other hand, was very close to reality. Ten months later, on 19 December 2016, Anis Amri shot a Polish trucker in Berlin, and drove his truck across the Christmas market at Breitscheidplatz, perpetrating a bloodbath. Twelve people died. Amri claimed responsibility in the name of the "Islamic State (IS)."
With the Berlin attack, a phase of relative comfort came to an end in the Federal Republic. While bombs exploded in the United Kingdom, Spain, France, and Belgium, and terrorists shot or ran down people down with trucks, Germany was until then spared major Islamist attacks. Assassination plans did exist, like those of the Sauerland group, which wanted to detonate a bomb at Frankfurt airport. There was also a terror cell that planned to throw hand grenades into the Jewish Museum in Berlin. And there were Al Qaeda members who wanted to detonate a bomb in Düsseldorf. But there was also then the GTAZ, in room A242, where police and Germany's domestic security agency, the Office for Protection of the Constitution, gathered and intervened in time.
How could this happen?
The suicide mission on Breitscheidplatz stunned Germany. It is now harder for Germans to walk around Christmas markets and folk festivals. The attack has shaken the supposed certainty that Germany's antiterrorism defense works. Now many Germans doubt that this finely differentiated capillary system of German federalism, with its 36 police and intelligence services, is the best of all solutions. In Anis Amri's case, this system and the state failed.
How could this happen? And how can such a mistake be prevented in the future?
Over three months, a team of ZEIT journalists has investigated the attack and its prehistory. Reporters have traveled to Tunisia to Amri's family, to Italy, where Amri stepped onto European soil for the first time, and to Poland for the funeral of the truck driver Łukasz Urban. They analyzed several thousand pages of investigations, observation logs and intelligence records from Germany and Morocco, where the authorities were particularly concerned about Amri's proximity to IS. In addition, ZEIT spoke with the Germany's Federal Minister of Interior, Thomas de Maizière (CDU), and his North Rhine-Westphalian colleague Ralf Jäger (SPD), as well as with investigators from state-level and federal authorities, some of whom attended the decisive meetings.
The research reveals a picture of a security apparatus that was rebuilt after September 11, 2001, but whose architecture fits today's reality quite poorly.
On the morning of February 18, 2016, the day after the GTAZ meeting, Anis Amri threw two rucksacks over his shoulder in Dortmund, where he had stowed his belongings, bought a ticket and got on the long-distance bus to Berlin. At the same time as the bus left Dortmund, the police officers from North Rhine-Westphalia asked their colleagues in the capital to monitor Amri. The Berliners decided otherwise: They picked up Amri at the central bus station, took him to the criminal investigations office, photographed him, took his fingerprints, and confiscated his mobile phone. The Düsseldorf police were livid: the Tunisian had been warned.
For dangerous persons such as Amri, in other words persons whom the authorities view as violent, the BKA isn’t responsible, but rather the respective state (Land in German) authority where the person resides. Responsibility for Amri therefore was at times in North Rhine-Westphalia, at others in Berlin, depending on where he was located.
And Amri moved around a lot: from the small town of Emmerich on the Rhine to Dortmund and then to Oberhausen, to Berlin and back again, from the mosque to acquaintances and back to the mosque again. Whenever it appears that he had changed states, the state-level police authority (LKA) in North Rhine-Westphalia shifts responsibility to Berlin, and vice versa. When studying the files, one gets the impression that every time he moved location, there was a sigh of relief from an office in the state he just left.
In early March 2016, the investigators analysing Amri's cell phone date stumbled upon a conversation he had on February 2 with two Islamists on the chat program Telegram. The two men used Libyan cell numbers and were apparently near the Libyan town of Sirte. He wants to marry one of their sisters, said Amri. When his counterpart did not immediately understand, he whispered, it's about dugma, which in the Islamist scene means "trigger." According to BKA, the word is used by Islamists as a synonym for a suicide attack.
But then his interlocutor got it. Amri should not use the word again, the man reprimanded him in an audio message that he then sent. They agreed on a code: Amri should communicate to a contact person in Germany that he wants to "serve the religion of God no matter what means." The man will bring him to another brother "and direct him." And be careful on the telephone, the man in Libya warned. Don't call home as the Tunisian authorities are on alert. Shots can be heard in the background. God will unite them in paradise, said the man, whose number Amri stored under an entry: "Malek-ISIS."
When the investigators listened to the audio files on Amri's mobile phone, they noted: Amri announced "in a roundabout way that he is in Germany to commit a suicide attack."
At the latest, in March 2016, it should have been clear to all parties that the undercover agent wasn't talking nonsense, and that the assessment of the North Rhine-Westphalian police officers was correct, not the BKA's. Amri was not only a supporter of IS, but also well networked. And above all: determined.
The two men in Libya, with whom Amri chatted, were Tunisians. Perhaps Amri knew them from home. In Emmerich, in the refugee shelter, he had passed around pictures of black-clad fighters. These were relatives, he claimed at that time: cousins, an uncle, allegedly all with IS.
What kind of family is he from? Did his radicalization begin in Italy and Germany, or before in Tunisia?
A criminal in Tunisia and Italy
"At home, Anis was, above all, a spoiled mommy's boy," says Walid Amri, 30, one of Anis's older brothers. The family had four sons and five daughters. Anis had been given everything he wanted in a modest way, says Walid. As ZEIT interviewed him, he sat in a cafe on the edge of a sheep pasture, about one hour’s car ride south of the capital Tunis. The waiter served us green tea with mint syrup.
In the days after the attack, under the spotlight of world publicity, the family was made out to be a terrorist clan. Walid Amri says he does not want to go down in history as the "brother of the terrorist." He is a courteous man who leads a quiet life and earns his money by transporting cattle feed.
Their mother, Walid said, regularly asked them to give Anis a bit of money. Anis had surrounded himself with false friends, smoked hash, and stolen a car. But the police caught him. "He was a criminal," Walid says. In Tunisia, he would have been incarcerated.
In 2011, Anis Amri had just turned 18. He used the turmoil of the Tunisian revolution to escape the law. He scraped together the money for the human smuggler who brought him to the Italian island of Lampedusa. He called his family from a payphone in an Italian detention center. A little later, a court in Tunis handed down a sentence of four years imprisonment.
If you believe his brother, then Anis Amri was a young man straying, spoiled and without plans, but not a terrorist. Only in Europe did he get into the hard stuff: cocaine, amphetamines, hate.
Anis Amri knew that he'd never be recognized as a refugee in Europe, says his brother. "His plan was to collect as much money as possible, and then return to Tunisia," says Walid. The family even hired an attorney to get Anis Amri's prison sentence reduced -- to help him start off on a new foot in the old homeland.
Perhaps Amri's radicalization began in Tunisia, even if his brother and his parents don't want to hear it. Amri’s relationship to his nephew, Fadi, who is now sitting in the high-security prison in Tunis, suggests this. He is suspected of having known about the attack in Berlin. Until shortly before the Breitscheidplatz attack, messages had been exchanged between the two of them. The thesis of an early radicalization is supported by the Moroccan secret service. According to it, Amri had already tried to join IS in Tunisia, for which he was wanted by the Tunisian authorities.
A black flag with Arabic characters
On April 4, 2011, Amri landed on Lampedusa. A day later he registered with the police. In the photo, we see a smiling young man looking optimistically into the camera, ready for a new life. But it started with a lie.
Amri had heard that minors were more likely to get a residence permit. So he gave the police a false date of birth, claiming that he was only 16 years old. From Lampedusa he travelled to Sicily with six other Tunisians. He stayed in a Catholic dormitory for young people, located in Belpasso, at the foot of Mount Etna. Amri was one of the first migrants to be placed there.
The rules in the dorm were strict. The Tunisians had to get up at eight in the morning and be home at eight o'clock in the evening. Eleven pm was lights out. Amri spoke little, according to the head of the institution at the time. During the day, Amri worked at a tire shop in the village. In the evenings, he played Playstation, and sometimes he prayed.
On the weekends, however, Amri and the others smoked and drank, even though alcohol and cigarettes are prohibited in the dorm. They provoked their hosts by removing the crosses from the walls. Once Amri installed a black flag with Arabic characters -- the symbol of IS fighters -- as a desktop wallpaper on one of the dormitory's computers.
After half a year, on October 23, 2011, Amri flipped out. Drunk again, together with other Tunisians, he set a bed on fire after a fight with one of the social workers. A court sentenced him to four years imprisonment.
Pierelisa Rizzo got to know Anis Amri in 2013 in the small town of Enna. She volunteered in the prison, working on a musical with the prisoners: Rinaldo in Campo, a love story. Amri played the bongos. They had practiced for four months, Rizzo says, during which time some of the other prisoners told her about their homeland. But Amri remained closed.
He spent the detention period in six different prisons. Again and again, he attacked fellow prisoners and guards. Amri was not just a silent loner, as many interviewees describe him. He was also a fighter. During the three weeks of investigation in autumn 2011, he was involved in four dust-ups.
Amri fell apart in prison, says his lawyer. He knew that with his arrest, he had gambled away any chance of a residence permit. But he never blamed himself, the lawyer said: "It was always the others."
After his release on May 18, 2015, Amri was sent to a deportation center in the Sicilian city of Caltanissetta. The Italian state asked Tunisia to identify and accept Amri. But the Tunisian authorities didn't respond, just as they didn't respond later to inquiries from Germany. After 30 days, the Italians had to release Amri from the deportation detention, since there were no valid papers.
On June 17, 2015, Anis Amri became a free man once again. Together with a group of Tunisians, he then set off for Germany.
A European database of asylum seekers exists called Eurodac, which stores fingerprints, but no photos or biographical information. There is also the Schengen information system, in which data are stored on persons, but no fingerprints. And then there are countries like Italy that didn’t feed Amri's fingerprints into the database. And they want to get rid of problems like him as quickly as possible, no matter where to.
A dishwasher in Germany
So, Anis Amri is registered in Freiburg in the summer of 2015 as a seemingly respectable refugee, and then sent to Berlin. From there he goes to Dortmund and finally to Emmerich. There, Amri has a bed in a shared accommodation. Unlike most refugees, he quickly found a job: in a restaurant with a view of the Rhine, he started as a dish washer. Another refugee who lived with him then described him as a young man with one notable quality: "Anis was always angry."
Angry at the world, at his life, at this country that sends him from one city to the next. Again, everything is the fault of others.
An indication that Amri's thoughts are already filled with hatred is his rapid immersion in the Salafist scene in North Rhine-Westphalia and Lower Saxony. He visits at least 15 mosques regularly, most of them in Dortmund. The LKA will later note that he even performed as a preacher in some of the prayer houses, something the mosque operators deny. "All Europeans are godless," he railed to a friend. A little later, he was caught stealing two Samsung Galaxy phones from his fellow roommates.
Looking back, it seems as if Amri had had an imaginary map of the German Islamist scene, which he followed with determination. If this map existed, Hildesheim would be circled, or more precisely, a certain mosque in Martin-Luther-Strasse. This is where one man preached, whom the security authorities take to be the chief IS ideologist in Germany, an Iraqi named Abu Walaa. He managed a large network and was then later arrested.
Amri worked in Hildesheim at a pizza delivery service as a driver, about 30 hours a month. He introduced himself to the owner as an exchange student from Egypt who wanted to earn a little money. Amri wasn't a particularly nice guy, remembers the owner, and after a few weeks he simply no longer turned up to work.
The police had placed an informer in Abu Walaas’s vicinity, who reported on Amri for the first time on November 19, 2015, writing that there is a man named Anis who wants to "do something here."
The informer is a big man, in his late thirties, with thick black hair. Since 2004, he has been working as an informant, beginning with several years in the mafia and drug milieus. Since 2011, he has been regarded by the LKA as their most reliable informer in the Salafist scene. He is a regular guest of Abu Walaa and his deputy Boban S., a chemical engineer, whom they call "the Serb." "They want to have an 'Islamic state' here too," the informer reported to the officials. "It would support the caliphate, which would mean the introduction of the Sharia law in Germany, by violent means if necessary."
The informant sometimes took Amri with him in the car. Amri boasted that he could "easily get a Kalashnikov in Napoli," said the undercover agent, who is now in a witness protection program. Amri had repeatedly spoken of "carrying out attacks." Apparently, he was often invited to personal audiences with Abu Walaa, probably to get tips "for a trip to the Islamic State." The LKA observed Amri, the Federal Public Prosecutor General opened an investigation. He was by then fully in the state's sights.
Shortly before Christmas 2015, "the Serb," Abu Walaa's deputy, organized a violent march for his students. Amri was also present. They marched for 16 kilometers with heavy packs on their backs, "to prepare for their departure to the Islamic state," according to the informant. Amri marched through Germany as if he were a Bundeswehr soldier. But his is a different kind of military service: jihad.
Amri immersed himself in Islamist ideology
One individual who knew Amri from this time describes him as a very devout Muslim who "hung on the Serb." But Amri had "his ticks"; he could be short-tempered, on occasion "really aggressive" if he didn't get his way. "He would then smack himself on the thigh and begin screaming."
At the time, Amri moved back and forth between Hildesheim and the Ruhr area. In Dortmund, the Serb set up a prayer room on the first floor of a gray-blue turn-of-the-century building. Amri spent a lot of time there. Sometimes he slept in the house, not leaving it for 36 hours at a time. He even had his own key.
It was during these months – at the end of 2015 and in early 2016 -- when Anis Amri immersed himself in Islamist ideology. He prayed several times a day, and intensively studied the Koran, while during the day he sold perfume at a flea market. (The perfume was halal, pure according to Muslim standards.) There is plenty of evidence that his decision to commit an attack crystallized at this time. Europe became an enemy country.
Three ways to get rid of Amri
There were three legal ways to stop Anis Amri. One, he could have been arrested as potential terrorist. But the federal prosecutor leading the investigation didn’t believe that there was enough evidence to do so. Two, he could have been arrested for the crimes he committed in the eighteen months he'd been in Germany: assault, providing false identities, drug trafficking, and welfare fraud.
And, third, he could have been deported
Article 58a of the Residency Law (Aufenthaltsgesetz) stipulates that a state may deport a person on the basis of a fact-based prognosis in order to prevent an explicit danger or a terrorist threat to the security of the Federal Republic of Germany. The article sounds like it was written just for Anis Amri.
In March 2016, the North Rhine-Westphalia LKA sent a note to the state's interior ministry. According to the investigators, "a terrorist attack by Amri is to be expected." The officials believed that there were legal grounds for deportation. However, the responsible department head in the ministry felt the prospects of success were too vague: the courts set the bar high when it comes to authorizing a deportation.
Even in the GTAZ, no-one believes in the effectiveness of Article 58a. Because again, just as in Italy, the Tunisian authorities did not respond to requests about Amri's identity. And without official papers, there can be no deportation.
That the law is ineffective is nothing new. On the contrary, it would have been the first time that Article 58a was actually executed. The law was introduced in 2004 in response to September 11, for case exactly like that of Amri. But it was not applied. It existed only on paper.
Meanwhile, Anis Amri was not only traveling in the Ruhr and Lower Saxony, he also regularly traveled to Berlin. Ever since he was stopped and checked at the bus station, he knew that the police were on to him. He'd cross the street for no apparent reason. He was very attentive and constantly on the look-out, according to the surveillance reports.
Again and again, Amri walked through railway stations and shopping centers, apparently in an effort to shake off the police. He'd change subway trains unexpectedly and push his way through crowds. Amri exhibited conspiratorial behavior that was abnormal, the monitors noted. So should it really have been so surprising that the investigators heard little that was suspicious when monitoring his phone calls?
The authorities were overstretched. Thousands of pages of paper, about a dozen different names, seven Facebook profiles, heaps of applications for social assistance. An employee from the North Rhine-Westphalian Ministry of Interior said: "I can't conceal a slight annoyance when I see how he's leading us around by the nose."
An official from the LKA wrote under the heading "Amri Residency": "Even if no one wants to read/hear this name again, he is once more in NRW." She wrote in another email on the matter: "we are missing everything." A few days later, she wrote: "In this case, nothing surprises me anymore." An official from the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees sarcastically called him "our anus."
And then there is the problem of jurisdiction. With his commute between Berlin and North Rhine-Westphalia, Amri was driving the federally organized state crazy. "It would be logical if, as a result of accompanying measures for the termination of the residency, the audit assignments are handed over to Berlin," wrote a high-ranking ministerial official in Dusseldorf on March 7, 2016. "If everyone had done everything right in the first place, Berlin would already have the case."
But the Berliners did not deport Amri because three weeks later he was back in Oberhausen. He was thus North Rhine-Westphalia's case again. A helpless official in the Düsseldorf Ministry of Interior asked: "What can we do to get this whole process to gel?"
Nothing, would have been the honest answer. For in cases like Amri’s, there’s no German federal mechanism that kicks in. There are the meetings in Berlin-Treptow in the GTAZ, but these are about threats. There is a similar facility for asylum cases called "working group status," which concerns aliens' rights. The BKA is indeed the largest German police authority, but according to German law, it is not responsible. It is only responsible when the Federal Prosecutor's office initiates an investigation and thus involves the BKA.
And then there are the Offices for the Protection of the Constitution, which consist of 16 state (Land) authorities and a federal authority. On February 19, 2016, one day after Amri was stopped and checked at the Berlin bus station, the 17 authorities met in Cologne for a special secret meeting. They discussed a topic which, in retrospect, seems like mockery: How should the Offices for the Protection of the Constitution treat Islamists who are active across the boundaries of the 16 federal states? One might think that the secret service officers had been thinking about Amri when they set the agenda.
But Amri is officially not only listed as an Islamist, but also as a threat, and thus according to the law, is a case for the police. The constitution protection agency meets with police at the GTAZ, they are aware of the case, but in a situation where understanding Amri's thoughts would have been crucial, they decided not to have anything to do with it. Madness? Madness.
However, the state still had the second option to take the Tunisian out of circulation: by convicting him of a crime. The best chance to do this occurred in July 2016.
Drugs and a stabbing
On a Monday in the middle of July at 6:30 am, Anis Amri stormed a cocktail bar with two acquaintances in Neukölln's Hertastraße, and attacked a group of men. One of his companions stabbed a guest with a kebab knife, nearly killing him. Amri, according to a witness, hit another man in the face with a hammer. Apparently, it was a territorial battle over drugs.
The investigators observed that Amri was immersed in the drug scene, and even used ecstasy and cocaine. They listened on the telephone as he ordered 20 packets of an unknown drug from a wholesaler. They followed him to the Kleiner Tiergarten, a dealing site firmly in the hands of North Africans. They filmed him as he went from the mosque and dealt to a customer. There are only a few steps between jihad and sin.
Amri wanted to leave Germany
Amri and his accomplices did not have permanent residence, according to the police report on the stabbing. They were often observed on the drug scene: "For this reason an arrest warrant was requested." Had the public prosecutor known about Amri's criminal activities, he could have bundled the charges. A sentence of several years' imprisonment would have been possible. It wouldn't have taken terrorism to get Amri off the street. But the prosecutor didn't know Amri's prehistory, and witnesses chose to be silent. An arrest warrant was not requested, contrary to the police's proposal. Amri remained free.
In the days after the stabbing, Amri telephoned several times with his family. He sounded downbeat, and told them that he wanted to leave Germany. Apparently this had to do with drug scene disputes: The cocktail bar is, according to a witness, owned by a large Arab family. Such an attack doesn't go unpunished. Amri was afraid, says a detective. And so the Tunisian bid farewell to his friends in Berlin and on July 29, 2016, jumped on a long-distance bus to Zurich.
But the investigators, who were still monitoring his mobile phone, knew his plans. In Friedrichshafen, just before the Swiss border, Amri was arrested. He has two fake Italian passports, 281.42 Euros in cash, his Samsung cell phone, and a joint.
Amri wanted to leave Germany. But Germany, which wanted to get rid of him, did not let him go. Unlike the Italians, the Germans opted for the moral solution: they didn't want to stick the neighboring countries with a potential terrorist, say ZEIT investigators. And then, when he was taken back to Berlin, Amri made his decision.
A deadly decision
In the autumn of 2016, the investigators note that noise in the Islamist scene picks up: suspicious sentences in conversations, cryptic entries on Internet forums. IS was calling for attacks in Germany, especially via the Telegram chat app. Some of the messages presumably came from the crowd around Abu Walaa, the Iraqi preacher who Amri joined in Hildesheim. Coincidence?
In September, potential assassins received an e-mail address on a German Telegram channel to send their "Bai'a," the loyalty oath of the IS, and its "Caliph" Abu Bakr al-Bagdadi. "Take care of your safety, and send this just before the operation," it said. Everyone involved with Jihadism in the security agencies could feel that something was going to happen. The question was when and where the lightning was going to strike.
In November, the IS magazine Rumiyah, distributed via Telegram, contained instructions for attacks with trucks: "Vehicles are like knives, extremely easy to get." Because they are not usually noticed, they are a means for anyone who can drive to commit "righteous terror" and "kill large numbers of unbelievers."
Anis Amri followed the instructions, at least in part. Before his attack, he made a video in which he swore loyalty to IS and his Caliph. He stood on the Kiel Bridge in Berlin's district of Moabit and recorded a "message to the crusaders" on his cell phone: The Muslims were going to come and slaughter "the pigs."
The almost three-minute-long video, which IS published after the attack via Telegram, is certainly irritating. For one thing, Amri is wearing headphones and gazing at the sky, as if he were listening. Is someone dictating the text to him at this moment? Moreover, the video was not recorded just prior to the act. The trees still have green leaves. An analysis of the mobile phone revealed that the video was recorded on October 31 or November 1, 2016.
For almost six weeks after he made the decision to strike, Anis Amri was still moving around in Berlin.
There has been much speculation over the psyche of assassins. There is the moment when the diabolic wins the upper hand, in which a man is ready to kill, to sacrifice his own life for a supposedly greater cause. For Anis Amri, this point is reached in September or October 2016.
The investigators notice nothing.
Even worse, as the level of buzz around Amri rose, he disappeared from before the authorities' eyes. From September on, neither the Berliners nor North Rhine-Westphalia knew where he was, not to mention the BKA. In the GTAZ meetings, Amri was only a name on a list.
In the weeks before the attack, two different opinions existed within the relevant authorities: some investigators believed that Amri had dropped his attack plans, because he did not take part in the morning prayer or ritual slaughter, and because he took drugs. The other faction worried that the worst could transpire. Amri and his friends in the Berlin Fussilet Mosque showed a "group-dynamic increase in violent behavior." They believed that there was the danger that he had "descended into the underground," according to a Berlin LKA memo.
And this was what happened. Amri removed himself from the drug scene. He now lived halal, or mostly so. The investigators later found on his mobile phone a considerable collection of porn movies. The access logs show that he stopped watching them in October. One might say that he was disciplining himself in preparation for the final act.
The German authorities get an unexpected last chanceOn September 19, the Moroccan intelligence service DGST reported to the BKA, sending two photos of Amri. In one, he is a teenager standing on a square, presumably in Tunisia. The other, more recent photo, showed him with beard and head scarf. The islamonaute tunisia, as the Moroccans called Amri, had "joined IS," the communique stated. He has a plan, it stated, about which he will not issue any further details." Amri wanted "to join IS in Syrian-Iraqi territory or in Libya."
Four weeks later, the DGST wrote again. The Moroccans sent the Germans a new cell number for Amri, whom they noted was "in contact with jihad aspirants who were loyal to IS."
Attached to the letter were copies of photos showing Amri and his friends, a Russian Islamist, a German-Moroccan who poses with an ax, fighters with the black flag of IS, and an alleged cousin of Amri with a pistol. Pictures from the poetry album of Jihad.
The Moroccans wrote four times, the last time on October 17, 2016: "His current accommodation in Berlin is with a Moroccan follower of Jabhat al-Nusra," a branch of Al Qaeda. And they even deliver the clueless Germans the name of his roommates: Toufik N., a grim-looking man who, at a later point, will slam the door in the face of ZEIT reporters.
The documents were not a warning but inquiries on behalf of the Moroccans, say German authorities today, justifying why they paid no particular attention to the tips.
In fact, the Moroccans, who apparently ran their own intelligence operation in Berlin, make it clear in the letter that they consider the group around Amri to be dangerous, a cell of violent Islamists. With this information from the Moroccans, the Germans could have located the Amri in the decisive phase of his preparations. The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, at a meeting of the GTAZ on November 2, 2016, was commissioned to follow up on the latest report with the Moroccans. However, the agency did not do it.
The Assault at Breitscheidplatz
On the evening before the attack, a Sunday, Amri met for the last time with his best friend. The man is called Bilal Ben Ammar, one of the Tunisians with whom Amri travelled from Italy to Germany. Ben Ammar is also considered an IS supporter, whom the Public Prosecutor General in Berlin had already investigated.
At 21:08, the two entered the Arab restaurant Ya Hala in Berlin's Wedding district. They sat down at one of the wooden tables in the back, meeting for about 20 minutes. What did they discuss that evening?
The next day, just hours before the attack, the friends phoned again at 2:30 pm, according to Amri's mobile phone records. How likely is it that Ben Ammar did not know about the attack?
Friedrich-Krause-Ufer is located along the Westhafen in Berlin, a narrow street between a canal and railroad tracks. Here trucks park regularly, often overnight. Amri knew the area, as the Fussilet mosque, where he prayed, is only a few hundred meters away. Amri was there once, on December 15. Witnesses watched him test whether one of the trucks was unlocked, without success. His mobile phone data confirms the statements.
The vehicle was easy for a layman to steer
Four days later, on the evening of December 19, Anis Amri enters the Fussilet mosque at 6:38 pm, presumably to pray one last time, leaving at 7:07 pm. He went north, along Perleberger Straße, crossed a railway track and then turned left before the canal into Friedrich-Krause-Ufer.
The Polish truck with 25 tons of steel was parked at lamp 16, directly opposite the entrance to the ThyssenKrupp firm. The driver of the truck, Łukasz Urban, was preparing for a night in the truck. Because he arrived at his destination one day too early, he couldn't unload until the next morning.
Amri opened the door of the truck, prompting a fight. Urban's body will later reveal hematomas on the face, chest, and upper arms. Amri pulled out a pistol, an Erma EP 552, caliber 22, with which he shot Łukasz Urban in the left temple. He turned the key in the ignition lock, and released the handbrake. At 19:34 clock the truck started off. The vehicle was easy for a layman to steer, says the freight's owner.
According to the truck's GPS data, Amri drove the truck through the Tiergarten tunnel, past the government quarter, along Potsdamer Platz, past the New National Gallery. He didn't travel faster than 50 km/h, most of the time driving even slower than that. He then reached the Christmas market at the Gedächtniskirche. He drove past Hardenbergstraße, around the roundabout at Ernst-Reuter-Platz and then back again. Shortly after 20:00 he stopped at a red traffic light. As the traffic light turned green, Amri started off. It was 20:02. At around 15 km/h, the truck pushed onto the Christmas market. 15 km/h isn't particularly fast, but on this evening, the market is crowded enough so that he can overrun people and demolish booths. The victims didn't stand a chance.
Amri didn't manage to go any faster. According to an investigator, a string of Christmas trees lights had become wrapped around the axle and blocked the wheel. The truck slowed down, pulled left through the booths and stopped on Budapester Straße. Amri jumped out of the cab and ran to the subway station. In front of a surveillance camera, he flashed the Islamist greeting, the elevated index finger. This was the last trace of Anis Amri in Berlin. Four days later, he was shot dead in Italy.
On that evening, 56 people were injured, some of whom are still in hospital. Twelve died, among them: Łukasz Urban, the Polish truck driver; Fabrizia Di L., a young Italian woman who lived in Berlin; Peter V.; Dalia E.; the couple Anna and Gregoriy B.; and Dorit K. Six of the victims are from Berlin, six are visitors from elsewhere across the world.
The attack's repercusions
On the evening of the attack, the Federal Minister of Interior, Thomas de Maizière, had invited his closest colleagues to a Christmas party in a restaurant in the Nikolaiviertel, when his ministry called him. De Maizière left the bar, and telephoned with the Chancellor. He is suddenly the minister for the state of emergency.
Where does he think the mistakes were made? Three months later, de Maizière is sitting in his office on the sixth floor of the ministry and tries to answer the question. "Well," he says. His sentences never begin with "Well." Then, after a pause, he finds a comparison. He tells of a sex offender whom a reviewer thought to be safe and who had been released from prison. A week later, the man murdered a child. In Amris's case it was similar, says de Maizière. Here, too, the authorities had misjudged Amri's threat and "together made a very severe, incorrect decision."
A few weeks after the deadly attack, de Maizière proposed changes. He wants to integrate the constitutional protection authorities of the 16 federal states into the federal office in Berlin. The BKA is to be given "a right of initiative over other agencies," for example in the case of deportations. "In cases like Amri, we urgently need more commitment and unity among the authorities of the federal government and the federal states," he told ZEIT. De Maizière's proposals are designed to curtail federalism in security policy in order to harmonize procedures.
In Düsseldorf, the North Rhine-Westphalian Minister of Interior, Ralf Jäger (SPD), is standing in front of the edge of a black leather armchair in a large corner office of the ministry. He's visibly annoyed: "This is a devastating attack and shortly thereafter federalism itself is called into question!" With such radical change, the authorities would be occupied with nothing but themselves for years, says Jäger. "We have expertise in this area, we know each other. What will giving jurisdiction to the feds accomplish? "
De Maizière has been much criticized for his proposals: not only by the opposition or civil rights groups. But also by his own colleagues: by Joachim Herrmann, the Bavarian Minister of the Interior, who called the ideas "downright absurd." When it comes to guarding turf, Germany's interior ministers know no parties, only self-interest.
The grand coalition has at least agreed to introduce a new criminal offense. In the case of foreign threats, deportation will be possible in the future if they constitute a "threat to the internal security of Germany." Individuals should also remain in detention, if papers cannot be obtained.
But the real problem hasn't be solved: in the instance of threats, how can fragmented responsibilities be brought together in an overarching, holistic approach. The GTAZ was an invention that fit the situation after September 11, 2001, when the number of terror suspects was in the dozens, not in the hundreds. It's not designed for bulk handling.
On a bitterly cold winter’s day, a crowd walks through the Polish village of Banie to the cemetery. Łukasz Urban, the truck driver, is being buried.
The German federal government sent its deputy ambassador, but suddenly a second German delegation appears with a wreath and sash bearing a Polish and a German flag. One of the men is wearing an Alternative for Germany (AfD) pin. It is Andreas Wild, AfD politician and member of the Berlin Senate. Neither he nor his companions knew Urban, nor did they know his family, but they said that they want "to stand by the Poles," who couldn't help that the Germans elected Angela Merkel. On their wreath it says: "For our heroes."
It is an attempt to gain political benefit from the attack.
At the same time, IS supporters call for further attacks. "Don’t limit yourselves to Christmas markets. There are many simple targets. Every assembly of Kuffar is a target! So jump in and run them over, O lion! "
Somewhere out there is the next Anis Amri, thinking about an attack right now. Germany can only hope that the men and women of the GTAZ, in room A242, get it right next time.
Collaboration: Sebastian Mondial
Translated by Paul Hockenos