Terrorist Attack on the Berlin Christmas Market – Have We Learned Any Lessons?

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On Monday, 19th December 2016, one of the largest Christmas Markets in Berlin suffered a deadly terror attack that killed 12 people and injured 48. Anis Amri, the 24 year-old Tunisian who drove a stolen truck into pedestrians at the market was named as the prime suspect.

How did the terrorist get to Germany?

Amri had entered Italy with no documentation and was later convicted of committing violent crimes in Italy. He spent four years in prison. When trying to deport him back to Tunisia, Tunisian authorities refused to accept him because he had multiple identity documents in false names and they claimed not to have any reliable records to identify him.

Amri then entered Germany illegally, where he unsuccessfully applied for political asylum. A CNN news report stated: ‘A German security official said the suspect had been arrested with forged documents in the southern German town of Friedrichshafen on his way to Italy, but a judge released him. The suspect also came onto the radar of German police because he was looking for a gun, the official said.’

Although Germany refused Amri’s asylum application, they allowed him to remain at large where he continued to pose a threat, a threat that became all too clear when he mowed down his many victims in the Berlin market.

Given the recent horror of successive deadly terror attacks across Europe, one might have thought that German officials, including the judge who released Amri, would have erred on the side of caution to protect their own citizens. Instead, Germany (and Italy) unwittingly committed a deadly comedy of errors.

Concrete barriers for protection

But has this helped us learn any valuable lessons?

Well, perhaps, because just 11 days before the Berlin market attack, a British Christmas market in Birmingham installed concrete barriers to safeguard the thousands who visited the attraction each day against the possibility of a Nice copycat lorry attack. By the end of December, nearly 6 million people had visited the market in Birmingham’s city centre – a desirable terrorist target for sure. Why Berlin couldn’t have done the same thing beggars belief!

How did the terrorist get caught?

To everyone’s relief, Amri was killed in a shootout with police. From Berlin, he’d fled to Italy, disappearing through the ‘trapdoor’ frequently used by international terrorists and transnational criminals. The shootout occurred during a ‘routine’ police check as described in this N.Y. Times article:

‘It was a routine identity check, the kind Italy has relied more on to stem the flow of illegal migration deeper into Europe. But the man stopped by two police officers around 3am Friday outside the northern city of Milan was anything but an ordinary drifter. He turned out to be perhaps Europe’s most wanted man, Anis Amri, the main suspect in the deadly terrorist attack on a Christmas market in Berlin. Asked to show his papers and empty his backpack, he produced a gun, shot one officer, and in turn was shot and killed by the other.’

Are political lessons being learned?

Time and again it seems that countries around the world, including the United States, have been attacked by radical Islamist terrorists who managed to find weaknesses in border security and immigration systems. It would seem obvious that world leaders refuse to see lessons in these attacks and learn how to prevent future terror atrocities.

Obama’s refusal to accept the link between border security/immigration law enforcement and national security is echoed by Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, who admitted hundreds of thousands of refugees who were not screened.

A quote from Sir Winston Churchill in his eloquent speech delivered before the House of Commons on 2nd May 1935 sums up the issue perfectly. He was voicing his frustrations about missed opportunities and the failures to learn from history, as the storm clouds of war were gathering over Britain:

‘When the situation was manageable it was neglected, and now that it is thoroughly out of hand we apply too late the remedies which then might have effected a cure. There is nothing new in the story. It is as old as the sibylline books. It falls into that long, dismal catalogue of the fruitlessness of experience and the confirmed unteachability of mankind. Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong – these are the features which constitute the endless repetition of history.’

Additional reporting for this piece provided by Dakota Murphey

Melissa Thompson writes about a wide range of topics, always revealing interesting things we didn’t know before. She is a freelance producer for USA Today, and a contributor at Technorati. She lives in Utah with her 2 kids and husband. Melissa Thompson can be reached via LinkedIn or Twitter @melthompson88. Please follow and friend her on either site.