‘Berlin attack is pure definition of terror’
Lone-wolf attack are one of the most difficult challenges that security services face. Even the impressive German surveillance system, based on “slightly dubious legal grounds” can't prevent them, former MI5 intelligence officer Annie Machon told RT.
A truck crushed through a Christmas market in western Berlin on Monday, leaving 12 people dead and 48 injured. The only suspect in the attack was promptly released by authorities due to “lack of evidence.”
RT: What do you think happened on the part of the German security services?
Annie Machon: That’s certainly something that the German security services, as well as other European security services, have warned about – the fact that Christmas markets are targets. ISIS itself actually said they are going to target Christmas-related events across Europe. However these markets, I mean I know from personal experience, they tend to sort of pop up on squares, spaces, not necessarily with bollards or defenses around them.
So, it’s very difficult to try and defend against someone who wants to try to do a Nice-type attack, which is what it was. And unless you have prior intelligence it is very difficult to stop as well.
And this case is very interesting, the reports I’ve seen show that the registered driver for the lorry disappeared from communication at about 4:00pm and the attack happened at 8:00pm. So what happened in those intervening four hours – who knows?
RT: Would you have expected some kind of police presence to have been there?
AM: Absolutely. And I think most countries across western Europe have indeed put more police out there. I was in London today and there’s a lot of police, a lot of armed police out and about trying to keep an eye out for any potential terrorist attack. However, if you have a huge lorry that has been apparently hijacked and which has its lights off and which just suddenly appears from nowhere and crashes through, it’s very very difficult to try and mitigate any form of attack like that.
RT: If the attacker was indeed a soldier of ISIS, as they claimed, do you think he may have been recruited in Germany?
AM: It’s possible, or someone who perhaps left Germany to go to Syria or Iraq and has now returned, or could be someone who has been inserted from ISIS. The thing with ISIS is that they’ve been incredibly good over the last few years at their PR. So they’ll say that ‘we’re not trying to coordinate big-scale attacks, we’re trying to put out our ideology to people living in Europe or people who have come to us and are going back to Europe as nationals of those countries, to carry out lone-wolf attacks.’
So, that’s very difficult, and it’s the pure definition of terror. It’s using random violence to terrorize a population. And I hate to say, they are doing it very well. These lone-wolf attacks are probably some of the most difficult types of attacks the security services have to deal with.
RT: The only suspect was released, that means that the terrorist is still at large.
AM: Absolutely. I presume that in the confusion, in the horrific aftermath of this attack, some civil-minded citizen went after someone they thought might be close to the lorry and arrested them. But for the authorities, for the police to have released them so quickly there must be absolutely no DNA or forensic evidence linking them to the lorry. I mean there would be blood splatters, there would be fingerprints, there would be DNA. There were reports that his refuge was raided and technology and computers and telephones taken away. So they must be pretty certain to have to release someone this quickly that they were not involved in that attack.
Which means, of course as you say, there’s someone else out there, and the trail can go very cold very quickly. And one other thing we need to consider is if someone can disappear that quickly perhaps there are supporters out there to help hide them.
RT: German security services have found themselves in a difficult situation after the large influx of basically unregistered refugees, haven’t they?
AM: It hasn’t been made easy for them in terms of numbers they are dealing with. Having said that we know from the Snowden disclosures that the German security services and intelligence agencies have been hoovering up all the communications of the Germans on slightly dubious legal grounds, shall we say, for years now. And in fact the Germans have just brought in another very powerful surveillance act. So they are getting a lot of information from all the electronic communications within their country. Which means that there are nuggets of intelligence that they should be reacting to, unless they’re drowning in this fire hydrant of information coming in. And also it means that if you are trying to investigate people plotting some sort of big attack you make it through the chatter on the internet.
But if you get these lone-wolf attacks, like lorry hijack or knife attacks as Germany suffered last summer, there’s no preplanning, there’s no electronic chatter. So it’s very easy for them to miss people who have been radicalized and who mean harm for the people of their country.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.