ISIS claims responsibility; official response ‘measured’ 

German authorities have been “careful not to jump to conclusions” following a December 19 attack on a Christmas market in Berlin despite the fact that the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) has claimed responsibility, said Jasmine El-Gamal, a senior fellow with the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security at the Atlantic Council.

“They’re being very measured,” El-Gamal said. “[T]hey’re not quick… to shift the blame to someone else because they’re still in fact-gathering mode.”

El-Gamal joined Fran Burwell, vice president for European Union and Special Initiatives at the Atlantic Council, for a Facebook Live discussion on December 20 to examine the security situation in Europe in light of the attack, as well as the potential political implications. 

On December 19, a truck drove into stalls at a Christmas market in Berlin killing twelve and injuring forty-eight. The individual behind the attack has not been brought into custody. On December 20, ISIS claimed responsibility for the incident.

According to Burwell, ISIS’ claim cannot be considered definite. “It is not clear that just because ISIS confirmed or claimed responsibility that this person actually was connected with ISIS, and actually plotted with their backing and support,” she said.

El-Gamal said it is too soon to attribute responsibility or motivation, or to understand how this development will reframe the narrative around the most recent in a string of terror attacks throughout Europe.

“This does play very strongly into German politics,” said Burwell. She described how, in light of Merkel’s announcement that she will run for a fourth term in 2017, opponents are leveraging this attack, linking it to the chancellor’s policies on accepting refugees. At its core, however, the incident is not about refugees, said El-Gamal. In order to appropriately address the proliferation of violent extremism, the international community must look to root causes, citing the conflict in Syria.

At this point, said Burwell, “there are many uncertainties about this and many, many questions that still remain.”  

Rachel Ansley is an editorial assistant at the Atlantic Council.