The Islamic State’s Amaq News Agency has released a short statement claiming responsibility for the attack on a Berlin Christmas market that left 12 people dead and dozens more wounded yesterday. Amaq’s message, which was released on its website and via social media channels, doesn’t provide any details about the identity of the driver of the large lorry that was plowed into the market.
Amaq cites a “security source” within the so-called caliphate, as saying that “a soldier of the Islamic State…carried out the operation in response to calls for targeting nationals of the international coalition countries.”
So far, German authorities have been unable to identify the individual or group responsible. Earlier today, German officials released a Pakistani refugee who had been accused of driving the truck. “The investigation up to now did not yield any urgent suspicion against the accused,” various news outlets quoted the prosecutor’s office as saying.
The language employed by Amaq is nearly identical to previous claims of responsibility after terrorist operations in Europe, the US and elsewhere. The Islamic State has consistently described individual or small groups of terrorists as its “soldier(s).” Amaq frequently argues that these terrorists lashed out in response to the group’s calls for retribution against the nations participating in the international coalition fighting against the jihadists in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere.
For example, Amaq’s statement after a terrorist drove a truck into a crowd on Bastille Day in July in Nice, France was almost exactly the same. That attack left 86 people dead. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report: Islamic State claims its ‘soldier’ carried out Bastille Day attack in Nice, France.]
The jihadists have called for more slayings using vehicles. For instance, the third issue of the Islamic State’s Rumiyah magazine contained an article (“Just Terror Tactics”) advocating for the use of vehicles in terrorist operations. An image of a rental truck was displayed next to a picture of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and a photo of the aftermath in Nice.
“Though being an essential part of modern life, very few actually comprehend the deadly and destructive capability of the motor vehicle and its capacity of reaping large numbers of casualties if used in a premeditated manner,” the article in Rumiyah read. “This was superbly demonstrated in the attack launched by the brother Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel who, while traveling at the speed of approximately 90 kilometers per hour, plowed his 19-ton load-bearing truck into crowds celebrating Bastille Day in Nice, France, harvesting through his attack the slaughter of 86 Crusader citizens and injuring 434 more.”
“Vehicles are like knives, as they are extremely easy to acquire,” Rumiyah advised would-be jihadists. “But unlike knives, which if found in one’s possession can be a cause for suspicion, vehicles arouse absolutely no doubts due to their widespread use throughout the world. 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.”
Rumiyah’s editors went on to suggest targets, including “outdoor markets.” “In general,” the Islamic State advised, “one should consider any outdoor attraction that draws large crowds.”
In fact, one of the Islamic State’s online handlers encouraged a teenage Afghan refugee to use a car instead of a knife during an assault on a train in Würzburg, Germany earlier this year.
On July 18, an Afghan refugee named Riaz Khan (also known as “Muhammad Riyad”) hacked at passengers on the train with an ax and a knife. As the German press later revealed, Khan was in near-constant contact with a digital operative inside the Islamic State’s home turf in Syria. A transcript of their conversation was first published by Süddeutsche Zeitung and subsequently reproduced by FDD’s Long War Journal. [See: Terror plots in Germany, France were ‘remote-controlled’ by Islamic State operatives.]
During a digital chat with Khan, the Islamic State’s man asked: “What kind of weapons do you intend to use to kill people?”
“My knife and ax are ready for use,” Khan replied.
“Brother, would it not be better to do it with a car?” the Islamic State plotter asked, before suggesting that Khan learn how to operate an automobile. “The damage would be much greater,” he told Khan.
But Khan was impatient, saying he “cannot drive” and “learning takes time.”
“I want to enter paradise tonight,” Khan explained.
And so Khan wounded several people on board the train, but fortunately failed to cause a large number of casualties.
Nearly one week later, on July 24, a Syrian refugee identified as Mohammad Daleel blew himself up outside of a music festival in the German city of Ansbach. Daleel, too, had been in regular contact with an online handler.
The Islamic State’s technique for guiding terrorists has become so common across Europe, especially in France and Germany, that officials now describe these operations as being “remote-controlled.”
All of the details concerning the driver in Berlin are yet to be confirmed and reported. It remains to be seen if this person, or group of people, was also “remote-controlled,” or had any other concrete ties to the Islamic State.