ATbar The December 2016 Berlin Vehicular Ramming Attack: An Analysis

The December 2016 Berlin Vehicular Ramming Attack: An Analysis

30/01/2017 | by ICT Staff  

Written by Lt. Col. (Res.) Uri Ben Yaakov, Ms. Arava Lev, Mr. Michel D. Wyss

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On Monday evening, December 19, 2016, at 20:02, Anis Amri, a 24-years old Tunisian who had previously pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS), drove a semi-truck with a trailer into the Breitscheid Christmas Market, located next to the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in the heart of Berlin.[1] Amri steered the truck from Kantstrasse into the entrance of the Christmas market, plowing through visitors across a path between market stalls for about 60-80 meters before breaking through a row of stalls and coming to a stop on Budapesterstrasse, at the foot of the Memorial Church.[2] Apparently, the truck was stopped by its automatic breaking system after it detected an impact.[3] In total, 11 people were killed, and 45 wounded (30 of them seriously) in the attack.[4] In addition, the original truck driver, a 37-year old Polish citizen, was found dead in the truck's passenger seat.

 Attack Overview, from Zeit Online[5]

Attack Overview, from Zeit Online[5]

The exact circumstances under which Amri took over the vehicle and his actions prior to the attack still remain unclear. It is known that the truck had been parked at Friedrich-Krause-Ufer in North Berlin, approximately 5 km away from the targeted Christmas market, on the morning of the attacks and remained there until the afternoon. According to the haulage firm’s central monitoring system, the truck's engine started and the vehicle moved several times in the course of the late afternoon. The haulage firm speculated that this indicated that someone was trying to familiarize himself with the vehicle.[6] According to the German authorities, Amri had shot the driver in the head while the vehicle was still in North Berlin. Apparently, the shot was fired from the driver's seat while the Polish driver sat in the passenger's seat.[7]

At around 19:30, Amri drove towards the Christmas market. However, it looks like he instead of carrying the attack immediately, he made a loop through the inner city before plowing into the market.[8] According to the German authorities, Amri sent a series of text messages shortly before the attack, in which he indicated that he was in the vehicle and asked the recipients to pray for him.[9] Additionally, he took a selfie with his mobile phone. Both the phone and Amri’s wallet (containing 230 Euros) were later found at the crime scene.[10]

After the attack, taking advantage of the chaotic scene, Amri was able to flee the area. Amid the initial confusion, German police apprehended a suspect near Siegessäule less than an hour after the attack (at 20:56), but he was released the following day. Meanwhile, investigators found Amri's fingerprints, as well as an identity document belonging to him, in the cab of the truck, establishing his culpability.[11]

Shortly after the attack, Amri was recorded by a security camera at the Zoologischer Garten train station in Berlin. Apparently aware that he was filmed, he posed for the camera by performing the Tawhid hand sign.[12] It is yet unclear where Amri was on December 20, the day immediately after the attack, though according to German authorities, he might have been in the North Rhine-Westphalia region.[13] Over the next two days, Amri travelled across Europe (see map below), before arriving at the Milan central station around 1:00 in the morning on December 23rd. Two and a half hours later, at 3:30, Amri was spotted by police officers who attempted to check his identity at the Sesto San Giovanni train station near Milan. In response, he opened fire and was shot and killed by the officers.[14] 

The day after the attack, on December 20, 2016, the Islamic State organization, via Amaq News Agency, claimed responsibility for the attack, stating:

…The perpetrator of the vehicular ramming attack in Berlin, Germany is a soldier of the Islamic State. He carried out the attack as an answer to the calls to harm the subjects of the states participating in the international coalition.[15]

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