Last July 28, on a Friday afternoon, Ahmad A., whose last name remains undisclosed according to German law, entered a Hamburg supermarket dressed in a long, Islamic robe, grabbed a knife from the household wares section and began stabbing wildly about him while yelling “Allahu Akbar.”
After killing a 50-year-old man, and severely wounding three others, the 26-year-old jihadist then ran out of the supermarket, slashing four more bystanders outside.
Ahmad A., a refused asylum seeker from the United Arab Emirates whose nationality is Palestinian, was only prevented from killing and wounding more people by patrons of a nearby bistro who, armed with chairs and stones, chased down the “holy warrior” and kept him occupied until police arrived (see video here).
After firing warning shots, police seized Ahmad A., who immediately said he wanted to be “treated as a terrorist.”
The reaction of German authorities to the country’s latest jihadist rampage was predictable. Their version, as in other terrorist cases that are becoming all too frequent, is of a self-radicalized, lone wolf who, at short notice, decided to carry out a terrorist attack.
“There are no clues concerning membership in the terrorist organization Islamic State or any other group,” reports Die Welt, summarizing a statement by the Federal Prosecutors Office. “Also not for any contacts or agents of influence. There also exists no indications that others were involved or of any string-pullers.”
But the Federal Prosecutors Office officials did say though that “a radical Islamist background suggests itself.” No kidding!
The authorities’ usual attempt at self-exoneration, however, began to unravel as days passed.
First, Germans were surprised to learn Ahmad A. should not even have been in Germany. He had arrived in their country in 2015 from Norway where he had also made an asylum application.
German immigration authorities could legally have returned him later that year but missed the deadline by one day. Therefore, according to the Dublin Regulation, Norway was now under no obligation to take him back – which it, wisely as it turns out, refused to do. Prior to Norway, Ahmad A. had also stayed in Spain and Sweden.
But while in Germany, it was the several tips and requests for help regarding Ahmad A.s increasingly radical and erratic behavior before the attack that has embarrassed German authorities and left them scrambling for answers.
Security officials first became aware of Ahmad A.’s unsettling behavior in April 2016 when a fellow resident at the refugee hostel where they both lived told police that Ahmad was becoming “more and more radical.”
Hostel residents, Die Welt reports, described Ahmad A. as “an outsider,” who earlier “drank alcohol, smoked hash and consumed cocaine,” but did play soccer with others.
“More recently, however, he hardly ever left his room,” residents told the paper. “He was ‘crazy’ and often yelled Allahu Akbar across the hallway.”
He also “read loudly” from the Koran and insulted other Muslims there that they weren’t living like true Muslims.
After the initial tip, police then contacted Hamburg’s Office for the Protection of the Constitution (Germany’s FBI), which deals with suspected terrorists.
The Office for the Protection of the Constitution (OPC) spoke with the hostel resident a second time in September to establish Ahmad A.’s identity. He had originally supplied some incorrect details, causing confusion.
When cleared up, the OPC discovered it had no file on Ahmad, but officials did “sit up and take notice” when the hostel resident said Ahmad A. had asked him “how best to get to Syria.”
Only on November 3 did OPC officials talk to Ahmad A. After this conversation, the OPC classified him as “an Islamist,” or suspicious case, and not as a “dangerous.”
A fatal mistake.
“Our judgement was a mixture between psychological instability and a religiously-motivated radicalization process in a stage where we proposed to have him examined,” stated OPC chief Torsten Voss.
Die Welt reported: “The authorities did not see any real danger because there was no indication that he was involved in the local Islamist scene.”
Later in November, Ahmad A’s asylum application for Germany was rejected. Authorities considered deporting him to an autonomous Palestinian area but he lacked the necessary papers. He also lost a subsequent deportation hearing, but appeared ready to leave Germany voluntarily.
For in December, Ahmad A. himself told employees at a Hamburg municipal office he wanted to go to Gaza. But what really disturbed employees was that Ahmad showed up at their office wearing a long, Islamic robe wearing and a “troubled” look. They reported this to the OPC.
Meanwhile, other tips continued to arrive regarding Ahmad A.’s radical, strange behavior as well as requests for help.
According to Der Spiegel, both employees of a café patronized by other asylum seekers and the refugee hostel director turned for help to a counselling center, which concerned itself with “religious-based radicalization.” The center then requested police assistance for Ahmad’s case.
According to the cafe employees, Ahmad would come clad in his religious robe, often read loudly from the Koran, and once even told the other patrons: “The terror will come here.”
There was also a second OPC encounter with Ahmad. An OPC employee visiting Ahmad’s hostel on an unconnected matter but also spoke with him. He tried to recruit Ahmad as an informant to report on the Hamburg Islamist scene but, again, found him too “unstable.”
“Ahmad A. is too psychologically conspicuous and one couldn’t draw near him,” reported the OPC official.
In December, another refugee hostel employee asked police that a meeting be held regarding Ahmad A. that would involve an “intensive examination.”
But the psychological examination, already proposed by Voss and formally requested in January, never took place.
As Die Welt reported: “The responsible specialist …came to the conclusion Ahmad A.’s behavior had normalized itself. A social-psychiatric evaluation was not necessary.”
A false conclusion if there ever was one.
One now knows Ahmad A. had occupied himself with radical Islamic “themes” since 2014. After his murderous rampage, police found a small, self-made Islamic State flag hanging on the inside of his refugee hostel locker.
After his arrest, Ahmad stated he had wanted to “die a martyr” and had considered using a car or a truck for his terrorist attack. He also said he had wanted to kill “as many Christians and young people” as possible. His only regret is that his killing spree didn’t cause more deaths.
Ahmad has maintained he launched his attack that particular day because of a sermon in a mosque he attended about the Temple Mount conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, which had “riled him up.”
This mosque had already once been in trouble with the OPC over a radical imam, but it was not under OPC observation. A strange oversight, since a Hamburg mosque had once hosted the 9⁄11 plotters.
But Hamburg residents shouldn’t despair.
Before Ahmad A.’s murderous rampage there were 800 Muslims in Hamburg the OPC had classified as “Islamists.” With 799 still roaming the streets, plenty of opportunity still exists for German authorities to hone their security practices which, hopefully, will eventually lead to better protection.