Germany's Angela Merkel to meet relatives of Berlin terror victims after 'critical letter'

The chancellor's spokesman has announced plans for Angela Merkel to meet with the relatives of those killed in last year's Christmas market attack. In a critical letter, the relatives accused her of "political inaction."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will meet with the families of the 12 people killed in a terrorist attack that targeted a Christmas market in Berlin last year, government spokesman Steffen Seibert said on Monday.

Terrorism | 01.12.2017

The announcement comes after the relatives of those killed wrote a letter published in the Hamburg-based Der Spiegel news magazine that accused her of "political inaction" and failing to reach out in the aftermath.

Read more: Terrorism insurance: Doing business with fear in Germany

"Almost a year after the attack, we note that you have not shared your condolences with us either in person or in writing. In our opinion, this means that you are not doing justice to your office," said the letter.

Terrorism | 03.12.2017

"It is a matter of respect and decency and it should be self-evident that you as head of the government … acknowledge to our families the loss of a relative because of a terrorist act."

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Failed Bonn bomb

The blue bag left on the platform at Bonn's central station in 2012 contained explosives that did not go off, but a city-wide manhunt unfolded. Marco G. was eventually arrested and charged with planting the bomb. Three others are charged with plotting to assassinate a politician from the far-right PRO-NRW party. Their group allegedly drew inspration from an Islamist movement in Uzbekistan.

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Frankfurt airport bus attack

In March 2011, Arid Uka shot dead two US servicemen waiting for a bus at Frankfurt airport prior to deployment in Afghanistan. "This is indeed the first Islamic-motivated terror strike to have happened in Germany," the judge said, adding Uka had sought revenge for military operations in Afghanistan. Uka, born in Kosovo, acted alone and was sentenced to life in prison in February 2012.  

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The Sauerland Cell

The "Sauerland Cell" was a German cell of the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU), a terrorist group on the Pakistani-Afghan border. The four German and Turkish men had planned large-scale bomb attacks against American targets in Germany from their base in the western region of the Sauerland. Arrested in September 2007, they were sentenced in March 2010 for up to 12 years. 

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Sharia Police

Sven Lau, a Salafist Muslim, was the man behind a well-known Islamist publicity stunt. In 2014, Lau led several men around the city of Wuppertal in orange security vests labeled "Sharia police." Acting as state authorities, they warned people visiting local clubs and bars to adhere to Sharia, or Islamic law. He is currently on trial for backing a terror group fighting in Syria.

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Big mouth

Nils D., a Salafist from Dinslaken, joined the "Islamic State" in Syria in October 2013. He tracked down the group's deserters - armed with explosives and guns. He returned to Germany a year later, and boastful statements about his time in Syria eventually got him arrested. He confessed the names of other German Islamic extremists and was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in jail. 

Germany's biggest Islamist trials

"Biggest mistake of my life"

On the final day of Harry S.'s July 2016 trial, he said "going to Syria was the biggest mistake of my life." The Bremen-born Muslim convert spent three months with "Islamic State" in Syria in 2015. He wanted out after civilians were murdered for a short recruitment film he helped make. He was sentenced to three years in jail for being part of a foreign terrorist organization.

'Lessons can be learned'

Seibert said it was a "moving, critical letter" that was read in Merkel's office "with the greatest respect."

However, he insisted that plans to meet with the relatives of the attack's victims had already been made before the letter was published. "The letter shows how useful and urgent this meeting is," he said.

Read more: Help for Berlin Christmas market terror victims 'better late than never'

In March, then-President Joachim Gauck met with the relatives of the 12 people in agreement with the chancellor's office.

At least 1.6 million euros ($1.9 million) in compensation has been given to the families of the victims and people wounded in the attack, according to justice ministry figures.

Merkel 'failed' on terror threat

In the letter, the relatives of the victims said Germany lacked "basic professionalism in its approach to terrorism."

German authorities have come under pressure for failing to apprehend 24-year-old Tunisian national Anis Amri, the failed asylum seeker suspected of driving the truck into the Christmas market crowd, after mingling in extremist circles and dealing drugs.

Read more: Anis Amri: How a terror suspect eluded German authorities

"At a time when the threat posed by dangerous Islamists has greatly increased, you have failed to push ahead with expanding resources and reforming the confused official structures for fighting these dangers," the letter said.

Germany has been on high alert since the attack, with the country's intelligence agencies warning that returning foreign fighters may pose a significant threat to security in the country and elsewhere in Europe.

Chronology: Terror plots in Germany

Leipzig, October 2016

Police in Leipzig arrested 22-year-old Syrian refugee Jaber al-Bakr after a two-day manhunt following the discovery of explosives and other bomb-making equipment at his apartment in Chemnitz. He was suspected of plotting to attack a Berlin airport. Two days later, he hanged himself in his prison cell.

Chronology: Terror plots in Germany

Ansbach, July 2016

In July, the "Islamic State" (IS) claimed responsibility for two attacks carried out by asylum seekers. 15 people were injured in a crowded wine bar next to the entrance to a music festival in the Bavarian town of Ansbach after a rejected Syrian asylum seeker detonated an explosive device. The man killed himself in the attack.

Chronology: Terror plots in Germany

Würzburg, July 2016

A 17-year-old asylum seeker wielding an axe and a knife went on a rampage on a regional train near Würzburg, seriously injuring four members of a tourist family from Hong Kong and a passer-by. The attacker was shot dead by police. German authorities said the teenager was believed to be a "lone wolf" inspired by the IS, but without being a member of the network.

Chronology: Terror plots in Germany

Düsseldorf, May 2016

Three suspected members of the "Islamic State" terror network were arrested in the German states of North Rhine-Westphalia, Brandenburg and Baden Württemberg. Authorities say two of the men planned to blow themselves up in downtown Düsseldorf, while the other attacker and a fourth jihadist arrested in France planned to target pedestrians with guns and explosive devices.

Chronology: Terror plots in Germany

Essen, April 2016

Police arrested three people over a bomb blast that injured three people in a Sikh temple in Essen. The bomb detonated after a wedding party, blowing out windows and destroying a part of the building's exterior. A 16-year-old suspect turned himself in after police showed footage of the attack from a surveillance camera and special police units arrested another young suspect in his parents' home.

Chronology: Terror plots in Germany

Hanover, February 2016

German-Moroccan Safia S. is charged with stabbing a police officer at the main train station in the northern city of Hanover. The 16-year-old girl is suspected of having been "motivated by members of the Islamic State group in Syria to commit this act," chief prosecutor Simon Heinrichs said.

Chronology: Terror plots in Germany

Berlin, February 2016

In separate raids across the country, police arrested three Algerians suspected of links to the "Islamic State" militant group and of having planned a terrorist attack in Berlin. The Berlin prosecutor's office said prosecutors were aware of a "concrete" plan to target the capital.

Chronology: Terror plots in Germany

Oberursel, April 2015

The Eschborn-Frankfurt City loop bike race was called off after German police discovered it may have been the target of an Islamist terror attack. A 35-year-old German with a Turkish background and his 34-year-old wife were arrested on suspicion of planning the attack. Police found bomb-making materials in their home near the bike route.

ls/se (AP, AFP, dpa)