At a Glance - December 27

Europe: Berlin Christmas Market Attacker Connected to ISIS Cell in Germany

German investigators have connected the suspect in the truck attack at a Christmas market in Berlin on December 19 with a cell in Germany focused on recruiting for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Anis Amri, who was killed last week in a shootout with Italian police, was part of a cell run by Ahmad A., a.k.a. Abu Walaa, a 32-year-old Iraqi preacher based in Germany, according to the chief of Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office. Abu Walaa and four other suspects were arrested in November for leading a group that recruited people to travel to Syria to join ISIS.

The Abu Walaa recruiting network was responsible for as many as 20 Germans who have joined ISIS, according to a CNN report citing analysts who have reviewed German investigative files. One of the recruits, according to the files, rose to a senior level in Amniyat, the ISIS security and intelligence service—indicating a strong connection between the network in Germany and the senior leadership of ISIS. Anis Amri was preparing to join ISIS in late 2015, but when he was unable to travel, he began talking about conducting an attack inside Germany.

The investigation is currently focusing on whether Amri had any accomplices, who could potentially be planning additional attacks, and whether he received any logistical help from ISIS operatives or sympathizers in Europe or Syria.


Communications: Telegram Emerges as the “App of Choice” for Terrorist Organizations

Telegram has become the preferred social media messaging service for ISIS and other terrorist organizations, according to a feature article last week in the Washington Post. ISIS has recently used Telegram to claim responsibility for the attack at the Christmas market in Berlin, to broadcast the video in which Berlin attacker Anis Amri pledged allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and, using Telegram’s bulletin boards, to encourage attacks in Europe during the holiday season. Telegram is popular with extremists because of its heavy encryption and secret chat rooms and, according to critics, because Telegram has not taken the same aggressive measures as Facebook, Twitter, and other social media companies to block extremist content from its platform.

The Post article cites a report published last week by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), titled “German-Based Encrypted Messaging App Telegram Emerges as Jihadis’ Preferred Communications Platform,” which calls Telegram “the app of choice for many ISIS, pro-ISIS, and other jihadi and terrorist elements.” The Post quotes the lead author of the MEMRI report, Steven Stalinsky, as saying that Telegram has surpassed Twitter as the most important platform. Analysts have described Telegram’s end-to-end encryption as “military-grade,” which is extremely difficult to crack, and it has a self-delete feature by which users can opt to have private messages disappear as soon as they are read.


Not What It Appeared: Black Parishoner Charged in Arson of African-American Church in Mississippi

A black man who attended the church was arrested last week for burning an African-American church in Greenville, Mississippi. The church was also spray-painted with the words “Vote Trump.” The incident occurred on November 1, a week before the presidential election. Andrew McClinton of Leland, Mississippi, has been charged with first-degree arson of a place of worship. The motive has not yet been determined, and the investigation is continuing. At this point, investigators do not believe the fire was politically motivated, although “there may have been some efforts to make it appear politically motivated,” according to the Mississippi Insurance Commissioner.

This incident serves as a caution against rushing to judgment. This is one of several incidents in recent months that appeared to be committed in the name of a political or social cause, only to be found later to be hoaxes.


For more information, please contact NJOHSP's Analysis Bureau at analysis@njohsp.gov or 609-584-4000.