Ever since Anis Amri (Abu al-Bara’ al-Tunisi), a Tunisian from Tataouine, who illegally migrated to Europe in 2011, drove a stolen truck into a Berlin Christmas market on December 19, 2016, there have been questions about his connections to IS operatives abroad, specifically in Libya. Today, the exceptional German journalist Florian Flade, who has been patiently investigating the attack and Amri’s broader network, uncovered who Amri was in contact with in IS in Libya.
Before getting to the specifics, as background, prior to Flade’s report, this is what was known broadly speaking:
According to the North Rhine–Westphalian State Office of Criminal Investigation, Amri had been in contact with two Tunisian IS members in Libya on the encrypted-messaging application Telegram since February 2016. Furthermore, a month after the attack, the U.S. military conducted an airstrike on an IS training camp and base twenty-eight miles southwest of Sirte, claiming it was in response to security threats emanating from the group against European allies. Yet U.S. officials and Libyan intelligence also suggest that the IS members in touch with Amri were based at this location, perhaps hinting at why U.S. forces chose the target in retaliation.
From this many, including myself suggested that Amri’s attack was a remote-controlled attack. This analysis has been further corroborated in the information disclosed in Flade’s new article. In it, Flade notes that Amri had been in contact with a Mu’adh al-Tunisi over Telegram in the weeks leading up to the attack. They were even in conversation as Amri was beginning the attack, telling Mu’adh and sending him pictures about securing the truck after killing the individual that had previously been using it for work.
The German government then began in earnest trying to figure out who this individual was using clues from the Telegram channel, which Mu’adh connected to several Facebook accounts. One of these accounts stopped transmitting information on January 4, 2017, a day before Libyan Special Forces announced they killed an individual named Abu Mu’adh al-Tunisi. Could this have been the same individual?
In mid-September 2017, more information came to light when Tunisian officials at its National Guard told German officials and prosecutors that they believe they identified who was guiding Amri : an individual named Mahir D. According to Mahir’s brother Chaker D. who acted as a financial middle-man between Amri and Mahir, that his brother was indeed in IS in Libya. Though based on Flade’s report there is no clarification on the current status of Mahir. Since Mahir is his given name it is certainly possible that Abu Mu’adh al-Tunisi (or just Mu’adh al-Tunisi) could have been his kunya. But Chaker did not disclose if Mahir is dead or alive.
Therefore, some questions remain, but we do have greater clarification on the individual(s) involved and the fact that there was real-time communication between Mahir/Mu’adh and Amri while he was preparing and conducting the attack. If Mahir/Mu’adh are not the same individual, it is possible that two individuals could have been using the Telegram account, which could be why the earlier reports mentioned two people were in contact with Amri over Telegram and also why there were more than one Facebook account connected with the Telegram account. Hopefully, more information will shed light on this in the future.
Either way, this case illustrates once again that although Amri might have conducted the physical attack himself, beyond his network of connections within the jihadi milieu in Germany, an operative(s) in IS Libya helped shape and guide the attack.