The Islamic State’s Amaq News Agency has released a video of Anis Amri, the Tunisian man suspected of driving a large lorry into a crowded Christmas market in Berlin on Dec. 19. Twelve people were killed and dozens more injured in the attack. Amri was reportedly killed in a shootout with police in Milan, Italy earlier today.
Prior to his demise, Amri recorded a video in which he swore bayah (oath of allegiance) to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, describing Baghdadi as the “Emir ul-Mu’minin” (“Emir of the Faithful”), a title usually reserved for an Islamic Caliph.
Amri went on to denounce the “crusader” bombings in the territories controlled by the Islamic State. He also called on Muslims to exact retribution by attacking inside the West.
Amri’s video was sent to Amaq, which posted the clip on its official website and social media after he was shot dead. Amaq also released a statement noting Amri’s death.
Amaq’s release of the video is consistent with the pattern followed after other Islamic State-claimed operations in 2016.
The terrorists responsible for small-scale attacks in Würzburg, Germany (July 18), Ansbach, Germany (July 24), Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, France (July 26), and Balashikha (east of Moscow), Russia (Aug. 17) all recorded videos of themselves pledging allegiance to Baghdadi before their hour of terror.
Their videos were sent to Amaq, which made minor additions (such as a title screen) and then released them online shortly thereafter. Screen shots from each of these videos can be seen below.
In other cases, terrorists have professed their fealty to Baghdadi and his so-called caliphate online or in phone calls, but their stated allegiance was not first released by Amaq.
For example, Omar Mateen, who massacred 49 people at an Orlando nightclub in June, repeatedly swore his allegiance to Baghdadi during conversations with authorities on the night of his attack. The couple responsible for the Dec. 2015 San Bernardino killings also referenced their bayah to Baghdadi on social media.
The Islamic State has claimed that its “soldier(s)” have been responsible for other attacks inside the US as well. Unlike in Europe, however, Amaq has not released videos from any of the attackers inside America.
There are multiple ways a jihadist can be affiliated with the Islamic State, or another terrorist organization. In some cases, such as the attack on Paris in Nov. 2015, the terrorists are dispatched by a group. In other instances, they receive some direction, either online or in person. European officials have described a series of plots in their countries as being “remote-controlled” by Islamic State handlers online. The aforementioned attacks in Ansbach and Würzburg, as well as others, fall into this category.
In still other scenarios, it appears the attacker was merely inspired by the jihadists’ propaganda. It often takes time for authorities to determine where a terrorist falls in this spectrum of connections, ranging from dispatched, to “remote-controlled,” to inspired.
Amaq’s release of the terrorists’ videos demonstrates that they are anything but “lone” actors. The videos suggest that the jihadists responsible for each of these attacks had at least one tie to the Islamic State, even if it was only a digital one. Other biographical details for at least some of the jihadists who have struck inside Europe demonstrate additional connections as well. For instance, the man who detonated his backpack bomb in Ansbach, Germany earlier this year had fought for the Islamic State in Syria.
Amri had his own ties to the Islamic State’s network and was on the US government’s no-fly list.
Citing “American officials,” The New York Times first reported that Amri had already “appeared on the radar of United States agencies.” Amri “had done online research on how to make explosive devices and had communicated with the Islamic State at least once, via Telegram Messenger,” the Times reported.
CNN reported that Amri “was known to German security services as someone in contact with radical Islamist groups, and had been assessed as posing a risk.”
Authorities tied Amri to Abu Walaa, an extremist preacher who was arrested in November. Abu Walaa, a native Iraqi, is a well-known, yet somewhat mysterious, preacher who indoctrinated Muslims in the ways of jihad. Some of his recruits are thought to have traveled abroad to wage jihad, including on behalf of the Islamic State. CNN’s Paul Cruickshank found that “as many as 20 Germans who have joined” the Islamic State had ties to Abu Walaa’s network.
However, Amri did not migrate to the lands of the so-called caliphate. Instead, he decided to lash out inside the West. The Islamic State has repeatedly told its followers that such plots are better than fighting in Iraq, Syria or elsewhere, as they do more damage to the jihadists’ enemies.
Screen shots from Amaq’s videos of the Würzburg, Ansbach, Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray and Balashikha terrorists swearing allegiance to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi: