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ISIS Likely Directed Anis Amri To Attack Berlin Christmas Market

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

We're joined now by Rukmini Callimachi via Skype. She's a correspondent for The New York Times. She covers terrorism. And she says that there are signs that ISIS directed Amri to attack the Christmas market in Berlin. Welcome to the program once again.

RUKMINI CALLIMACHI: Thank you for having me.

SIEGEL: And what signs do you see that point to this being ISIS-directed as opposed to some person being inspired by what he's read from ISIS or heard from ISIS?

CALLIMACHI: Well, at a minimum, we see that he recorded a video, which was released by ISIS' premiere newswire, the Amaq service. So he was somehow able to get this video to ISIS, which already suggests a connection.

We saw earlier this summer that attack after attack that was carried out in Europe and France and in Germany were incorrectly labeled as the work of lone wolves and as inspired attacks. And it was the presence of this video in each of those cases that signaled that there was a deeper connection. And in each of those cases, we later discovered that there were Telegram chats on the messaging app Telegram connecting the perpetrator to a member of the Islamic State who was directing them.

SIEGEL: But when you say an attack is directed by ISIS, I'm just curious what that implies. Did you - does it mean go and kill people? Does it mean go and kill people with a truck? Does it mean go and kill people with a truck at a Christmas market in Berlin? How directed is this?

CALLIMACHI: Well, let's look at the Wurzburg attack earlier this summer in Germany. That was a young man, a teenager who boarded a passenger train and went ahead and stabbed people on that train before he himself was apprehended and killed. So again, that attack was incorrectly labeled as being a lone wolf. Later on, we discovered that there were encrypted chats between him and a member of the Islamic State where the Islamic State handler was speaking to the attacker up until the very minute when he boarded the train.

They had discussions about what type of weapon he should use. The young man wanted to use a knife. The ISIS handler was telling him, don't use a knife; use a car. You're going to be able to do much more damage. And the young man said, I can't use a car because I don't have a driving permit and that would take me too much time to learn how to drive. So we see that level of direction.

And then in cases that have been foiled in America, you can see in court records that you also see something much more vague where it's just kind of encouragement, you know? Come on, Brother. You know, Muslims are being killed. They're being slaughtered every day in Iraq and Syria by these coalition pigs. Do your part - you know, that kind of messaging.

SIEGEL: People speak of when ISIS devotees or followers become radicalized. This man was imprisoned in Italy for about four years. Do you assume he's radicalized during that time? Would one be radicalized in a European prison?

CALLIMACHI: I spoke to Anis Amri's older brother for some time last night by telephone from Tunisia. And the older brother said that although he's not sure, he wonders and suspects whether his brother was radicalized in the Italian prison system where he spent around four years.

And the evidence that he has of this is that Anis, when he came out of prison, told his family, I'm moving to Germany with friends I made in jail. And we know that later on he goes on to live in the city of Dortmund, Germany, where he becomes very close to people that have now been arrested and accused of complicity with ISIS.

SIEGEL: It said that he was influenced by a Muslim preacher in Germany who's known as Abu Walaa.

CALLIMACHI: Yes.

SIEGEL: Is that a significant name? Are you familiar with his role in Germany?

CALLIMACHI: That is a significant name within the German-Jihad sphere. Paul Cruickshank of CNN had a detailed story today quoting investigation documents showing that this man, Abu Walaa, had styled himself as the representative of ISIS in Germany.

He ran basically an indoctrination program in three cities in Germany. And among his acolytes was apparently Anis Amri as well as Amri's main mentor, who's this man who has been identified by German officials as Boban S - just by an initial for his last name.

SIEGEL: Rukmini Callimachi of The New York Times, thanks for talking with us.

CALLIMACHI: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.