Germany asks NSA to decipher Bavaria attackers’ chat with ISIS mastermind – report

Police officers stand by a regional train in Wuerzburg southern Germany on July 18, 2016 after a man attacked train passengers with an axe. © Karl-Josef Hildenbrand
German intelligence had to call upon their US counterparts to help them crack ciphered messages between the alleged Islamic State plotter of the July terrorist attacks in Bavaria and his two accomplices after proving technically incapable of doing so.

The US National Security Agency (NSA) has helped the German Federal Intelligence Sevice (BND) in its investigation of the two July attacks in Wurzburg and Ansbach, a source close to the investigation told Focus, a German weekly magazine. The NSA decoded the messages reportedly sent by an Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) coordinator from a SIM card registered in Saudi Arabia.

The orders from the unknown IS agent were sent to the two actors shortly before the attacks, Der Spiegel reported last week.

According to chats with the IS affiliate, the Wurzburg attacker, 17-year-old Riaz Khan Ahmadzai, who injured five people with an axe and a knife on a train on July 18, was initially supposed to drive a car into a crowd. The plan was later abandoned because the minor didn’t have a driving license, and Ahmadzai said he would attack commuters on a train instead.

The other attacker, 27-year-old Syrian Mohammad Daleel, who had been denied refugee status by German authorities, was asked to shoot a video of his attack in the Bavarian city of Ansbach on July 24. It is believed that the improvised bomb he had hidden in his backpack went off earlier than planned. The explosion killed the bomber and injured 15 people.

Other messages exchanged with the Islamic State militant show Daleel was expected to take part in other attacks as well.

Earlier this week, the Saudi Arabian Embassy confirmed that it had cooperated with German investigators, but the statement, citing Saudi Arabian Interior Minister General Mansour al-Turki, rejected claims that the attackers had been in contact with an IS coordinator located in Saudi Arabia.

“The investigation found that the Islamic State contact person was not in Saudi Arabia but rather was in contact from the IS area,” the statement said, referring to an area in Syria and Iraq controlled by IS militants.

The statement didn’t specify which of the two attacks it was referring to.
The news of cooperation between the secret services of Germany and the US comes after a long period of rather strained relations between the two countries caused by a number of leaks showing that they were spying on each other.

In 2013, ex-NSA agent Edward Snowden’s revelations that the NSA had been spying on Angela Merkel and her closest advisers caused outrage in Germany. In the following years, it became known that up to 125 German officials had been targeted by US intelligence services.

However, in July, a document from the Bundestag’s Parliamentary Control Panel indicated that the BND had, in turn, spied on dozens of EU and NATO diplomatic missions up until October of 2013. More than 3,000 BND targets included heads of state, heads of government, and government ministers.