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Germany

After the attack: Tangle of bureaucracy, not failure of government

The laundry list of bureaucratic blunders is growing in the wake of the Berlin truck attack. The founder of a far-right movement seems to have had inside information. Highly embarrassing, says criminologist Rafael Behr.

Rafael Behr is a professor of criminology at the Hamburg Police Academy. He spoke with DW's Volker Wagener.

DW: Anis Amri has been known to authorities for months. He is one of about 550 so-called recognized threats in Germany, but still free. This sounds like a massive government failure.

Rafael Behr: Government failure is a considerable accusation. I am irritated by the number of parties involved who don't know what the other is doing. For me, this is less a government failure and more a tangle of bureaucracy that led to someone slipping through the net. The net is tight, but not to the extent of a totalitarian state, for example. That speaks highly of our freedom. I have no reason to believe it is intentional, but many responsible parties have led to certain people slipping through.

Why is someone sent to immigration detention, only to be released after two days despite his asylum application being rejected?

Everything we know now is of course after the fact. The sequence of events will now be tediously reconstructed. The authorities understandably cannot know this when they are called into action. The police took action by imposing immigration detention. The person in question was detained and investigated. Then, wait: He has no papers so we can't deport him. The man has to be released. Police do this often with clenched teeth, but they abide by the law.

Deutschland Professor Dr. Behr (Polizei Hamburg)

Behr says Berlin police should be alarmed

The suspect spent four years in an Italian prison for an arson attack on a school. How did German authorities not know this?

It's clear law enforcement information systems across Europe do not line up with one another. I can't say, however, why German authorities had no knowledge of Anis Amri's time in Italy.

Is it appropriate to reconsider the topic of missing identity papers? It is quite easy for one's documents to disappear as a way of stalling deportation.

Anonymizing oneself is an old trick to slip past authorities, but it has been a highly politicized debate since 2015: Masses of people entering the country without papers - that is, without the state in control. This has occasionally been the case. I can't say if the system of checking people needs to be reexamined. It is a controversial issue, but nor can I come up with an alternative.

"The New York Times" newspaper reported that Anis Amri was on a US no-fly list. He had some contact with the so-called "Islamic state" and researched online about explosive materials. Apparently, German authorities either didn't know this or didn't react. What should one make of this?

The Americans have far more people on their travel ban lists. Only some of them are also considered dangerous by German authorities. The US has additional criteria for placing someone on these lists. What Germany knows of these is a delicate matter for insiders.

It is further inconceivable that the cofounder of the far-right xenophobic Pegida movement, Lutz Bachmann, who has been convicted of inciting racial hatred, seemed to know the suspect's nationality just two hours after the attack. He cited internal police information. That sounds like right-wing extremism from within the police.

Deutschland Dresden Pegida Lutz Bachman (picture-alliance/dpa)

Did Bachman have insider information?

I cannot rebut that suspicion. There is, however, another possibility. High-ranking investigators say less than they know. Bachmann would appear not to be the only person who knows more and has insider information. More perplexing to me is how very late it was announced that Amri's supposed identity card was found in the truck's cab. Such evidence is found far sooner than 48 hours after the event. It would not surprise me to learn that the police knew of Amri's identity far sooner than it was publicized.

If so, information could have easily been leaked. That's nothing new. What would be alarming to learn is that information was leaked to a far-right radical. I can't rule out that Bachman does have sympathizers within the police. Initially, I thought Bachmann was just making claims to sound important. It is an embarrassment that those claims now have been confirmed. At the very least, the Berlin police should be alarmed.

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