The immediate reaction after a killer, who allegedly pledged allegiance to the rapidly growing Islamic State (IS) terrorist group, plowed a stolen truck into the crowds of Berlin’s Christmas Market on last week, was to blame the refugee crisis plaguing Germany for over a year, and naturally German Chancellor Angela Merkel. While it is not without reason, seeing as refugees have fought against the country in attacks in recent months, the story that surrounds the Berlin suspect follows a different, yet still questionably disturbing, path.
Anis Amri, a 24-year-old Tunisian, found his way to Europe long before the refugee crisis was on anyone’s radar. It is claimed that in his native home of Tunisia, he was accused of hijacking a van and later fled to Italy where he was found guilty for arson and the violent assault in a migrant youth center and was jailed in 2011.
While in prison, Amri turned to religion, but quickly became radicalized with the ideas of Islamist extremism by other inmates. Italy’s Bureau of Prisons issues a report to the government anti-terrism commission, detailing his rapid radicalization and attacks towards his Christian inmates.
Italian authorities made an effort to deport Amri back to Tunisia, but after submitting his information and fingerprints, the Tunisian government refused to recognize him as a citizen of their country. Despite the obvious dangers that he posed to society, Amri was released from the Italian prison system with the order to leave the country within seven days. And that is what he did.
It is believed that Amri made his way into Germany in 2015, and when he did, his past did not go unnoticed by German authorities. Like the Italians, Germany tried deporting him back to Tunisia but faced the same roadblock. With nowhere to send him, German authorities made efforts to keep track of his extremist activities, but all surveillance was dropped this past September as it was determined that Amri was not a credible threat.
How Amri’s extremist activities and planning escaped surveillance efforts is the real question in this tragic attack. Merkel pledged on Friday to conduct a comprehensive investigation into what went wrong and how these ties went unnoticed. The German chancellor also spoke with Tunisian president Beji Caid Essebsi to discuss the refusal to accept Tunisian refugees back into their home country.
It is easy to point the finger at warning signs that went unnoticed after the fact, but balancing freedom versus security is something a Europol official told DW is a legal grey area for counter-terrorism in a democratic society and government. “You don’t get complete security and freedom. You need to find balance.”
According the same official, placing a 24/7 surveillance on one person requires more than 20 officers and a large financial investment. When you factor in the hundreds of potential terror suspects, the financial and worker resources available begin to crumble.
There are plenty of instances though where this task force has successfully foiled plots around the country before the attack could take place. Earlier on Friday, German authorities detained two brothers from Kosovo after receiving a tip that an attack was about to be carried out by the two at a shopping mall in the city of Oberhausen.
Yes, it is easy to place blame on an easy target, and the actions that occurred in Berlin on Monday are unacceptable. Amri was able to take advantage of the refugee crisis to start anew after being kicked out of Italy, and despite efforts by German authorities to make the Tunisian leave the country, there was no place for him to go. The real blame can easily falls on the security surveillance efforts that failed to discover his ongoing radicalization, but like the other pieces in this tragic puzzle, governmental dead ends were around every corner.