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Anis Amri: The birth of a new generation of Islamist militants in Europe

Amri is not the first Tunisian to be involved in terrorist attacks in Europe – the Nice truck attack in July was also carried out by a Tunisian

Karem Yehia in Tunisia , Saturday 24 Dec 2016
Anis Amri
This image made from video released by Amaq News Agency of the Islamic State group on Friday, Dec. 23, 2016 shows Anis Amri, a Tunisian suspect in the Berlin truck attack pledging allegiance to its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and vowing to fight against what he calls "the Crusader pigs" (Photo: AP)
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As soon as German authorities accused the Tunisian Anis Amri of executing the Berlin market truck attack, media outlets in Tunisia started to largely focus on covering the issue.

Amri was not known in the North African country for his involvement in acts of Islamist militancy. His name was not even put on the government's list of wanted militants.

According to Tunisia's Al-Sherouq newspaper, Amri, 24, escaped Tunisia in 2011 after facing a five-year imprisonment sentence for committing armed robbery in Al-Weslateya neighbourhood—his hometown—in Kairouan city.    

He -- as is the case with thousands of desperate Tunisian youths who resort to illegal immigration -- took a boat and arrived at Italy's Lampedusa Island.

Amri, as the same report points out, was put in a camp for irregular immigrants once he reached Italian territories, facing later a four-year jail term after being accused of burning the refugee camp.

Al-Sherouq stated that Amri kept close contact with his brother and mother and informed them about his move to Germany through Switzerland, adding that 16 December was the last day they spoke to each other.

As for Amri's mother, she said still does not believe he committed the Berlin attacks, though emphasised that his family would disown him if it is proven that her son is guilty.

She called on him to hand himself to German authorities.

When checking the social and cultural background of Amri -- which many Tunisian news sources had recently spoke about -- one can conclude that Amri comes from a poor family.

His father was a street vendor, though he is currently disabled and cannot work anymore. Concerning Amri himself, he did not finish his school education. He was not religious at that time, which can be implied when knowing that Amri was drinking alcohol.

Amri is not the first Tunisian to be involved in militant attacks in Europe. In July, a similar truck attack in the French city of Nice was executed by another Tunisian called Mohamed bin Helal.

The Islamic State (IS) militant group claimed its responsibility for both attacks in Nice and Berlin.

In a news report published by the Tunisian Al-Maghreb newspaper, the Berlin attack reflects the rise of third generation of "Tunisian terrorists" in Europe.

The report said that the first generation moved to Europe during the 1990s, being linked to the Islamist militant groups in Afghanistan and the Europe-based, Algerian "terrorist cells."

The second generation, mentioned the report, was associated with Al-Qaeda's branch in Iraq.  

Being different than its predecessors, the third generation is characterised by both recruitment of militants and execution of attacks inside Europe.   

Speaking to Ahram Online, Samy Braham -- a Tunisia-based expert on Islamist militancy -- said that the Tunisian militants of the third generation are not clearly identified so far, arguing that the Tunisian people did not see that coming.

"Tunisians were shocked after knowing the involvement of Amri in the Berlin attack, especially that it came following a public sense of pride that Tunisian engineer Mohammed Zawari gave to them due to his scientific contribution in developing a drone for the Palestinian resistance," he said.

Braham concluded that authorities in Tunisia do not have information about them, especially since they mostly leave the country ahead of adopting "jihadist-Salafist orientations." 


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