New light has been shed on the German terrorist network behind the Berlin attack by 345 pages of German investigative files obtained by CNN.
They reveal the alleged Tunisian truck attacker Anis Amri was part of an ISIS recruitment network that orbited around a radical preacher called Abu Walaa from al-Tamim, Iraq. Walaa, who styled himself ISIS’ representative to Germany, built up a national following among Islamist extremists in Germany.
Analysts tracking the network tell CNN as many as 20 Germans who have joined ISIS have ties to his network.
The German jihadis, like some of their compatriots, had a penchant for bureaucratic subdivision, with leading proselytizers responsible for recruiting in particular regions.
Abu Walaa was the central figure in what prosecutors called a “nationwide network of salafi-jihadi indoctrinators, which are closely interlinked and act in a work sharing manner.”
The network even came up with a common curriculum to brainwash youngsters and persuade them to join ISIS. Their recruitment efforts were mainly based in the North Rhine Westphalia and Lower Saxony regions of Germany and they ran seminars in towns of Dortmund, Hildesheim and Duisburg that were visited by extremists from across the country. Supporters also downloaded Internet videos in which Abu Walaa’s face was not featured, giving him the nickname the preacher without a face.
Just like the so-called Zerkani ISIS recruiting network in Brussels, Belgium, the German network raised funds for jihadi travel through robberies and applying for fraudulent loans.
Another leading figure in the Abu Walaa network was Boban Simeonovic, a 36-year-old German-Serbian from Dortmund who acted as a guru to Amri and had a reputation for fanaticism even in these radical circles.
Both Abu Walaa and Simeonovic were arrested in November along with three other leading figures in the network. They were all charged with terrorism offenses.
When Amri was preparing to travel to join ISIS in late 2015, Simeonovic took him and other jihadi wannabes on long hikes with backpacks to get them in shape and tried to arrange for him to leave the country.
Sometime after his travel plans fell through, Amri started discussing launching an attack in Germany, according to a police informant in the network who was cited in the investigative files. Simeonovic was in favor of this and gave the Tunisian a place to hide, the police informant told German investigators.
According to the investigative files, handwritten notes were found indicating that Simeonovic had direct contact with a number of German ISIS operatives in Syria, including the German convert Christian Emde and Silvio Koblitz, a recruit from Essen.
The investigative files also include information from Anil O., a German-Turkish defector from ISIS tied to the network, now cooperating with German authorities. The defector claimed Abu Walaa had particular clout in Raqqa, Syria, because one of his former acolytes, a German ISIS operative named Lemke, was in charge of German members of the group’s “Amniyat” security service and was in touch with Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, who until his death was the second most powerful figure in ISIS.