The frantic last moments of Mohammad Daleel’s life were spent in an online text chat with someone in the Middle East, asking for advice on how best to kill himself and create chaos.
Wearing a homemade backpack bomb, he’d approached the gates of a pop music festival in Ansbach, Germany, but was surprised to see the entrance had security. When he sent a message asking what to do, the response told him to “find a loophole” or just confidently stride past the guards.
Instead, he turned away from the gates and toward the doors of a nearby wine bar. There, German media reports say, witnesses saw him trying to shrug the backpack off when it detonated. It was the second terror attack on German soil in a week, and one of four recent attempts at mass killing in Germany.
The bomb killed him instantly and wounded 15 others.
Police and Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann said they found out about the internet chat when they found Daleel’s phone. They both noted that the messages continued until just moments before his suicide.
The internet chat ended one question about Daleel’s Sunday bombing – whether anyone else was involved in a terrorist act that was claimed by the Islamic State.
But if the last moments of Daleel’s life came into clearer focus on Thursday afternoon, the events of the past several years appeared to get a bit murkier. In recent days, the Islamic State’s Al Nabaa magazine has come out with details about the 27-year-old asylum seeker that paint him as a terrorist who’d spent years waiting for the perfect minute to strike at the West in Germany.
Meanwhile, German officials painted a very different picture, noting his treatments after suicide attempts, his deep despair over the death of his wife and 6-month-old child in Syria and his intense fear of being deported to Bulgaria – where he initially obtained refugee status – or worse, back to Syria.
The details on Daleel’s attacks came as German Chancellor Angela Merkel for the first time since this wave of violence began spoke in detail about the attacks, and how this nation must react. Merkel had been on vacation and came back to Berlin on Thursday for a news conference.
She cautioned against overreaction. “I think we are in a struggle, or, if you want, a war with the Islamic State,” she said. “But we are not in a war or struggle against Islam.”
Still, the two recent cases of “Islamist terror” – Daleel’s attack and that of Riaz Khan Ahmadzai, who slashed riders on a train – and three other attacks by refugees that had no relation to the Islamic State or terror were “shocking, sad and depressing.”
“Taboos of civilization are being broken,” she said, and Germans have a right to be upset. “These acts happened in places where any of us could have been,” she said.
The perpetrators’ acts were “insulting to the country that accepted them,” she said, and she allowed that it’s possible the suspects were only “pretending to seek protection in Germany.”
But she added it’s important to remember that there are “many righteous refugees.”
She announced a nine-point plan for dealing with terrorism. The plan included such things as a system to detect radicalization among refugees, a new government office for decoding internet communications and “lower hurdles” for the repatriation of asylum seekers who don’t live up to expectations.
She then echoed her comments of last summer, with words that to supporters of her refugee policy symbolize hope for a new Germany, and to critics indicate an intense naiveté.
“We can do it,” she said again. “I never said it would be easy.”
The story of Daleel’s terror attack is certainly not simple.
In an account German officials said they find “highly unlikely,” the Al Nabaa magazine portrayed Daleel as a longtime Islamist fighter who first came to the cause as a fighter for what the magazine called “a precursor of the Islamic State,” which most likely was a reference to al Qaida in Iraq, the jihadist group that battled American troops in that country.
The magazine said Daleel had worked with that group for months before deciding to return to his home in Syria, where he immediately went underground to hide from President Bashar Assad’s secret police. When the Syrian civil war began in 2011, he and a few friends formed a unit that specialized in making bombs to attack Syrian soldiers.
Eventually, the magazine said, he joined the Nusra Front, al Qaida’s affiliate in Syria. The article isn’t specific on dates, just noting that later he was injured in Aleppo, where fighting began in the summer of 2012. After his injury, the magazine said, he left Syria to find treatment in Europe.
Throughout his recovery, Al Nabaa reported, he watched the growth of the Islamic State, and eventually followed the call of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi to plan attacks on the West. The magazine said he’d spent three months making the bomb he used in Ansbach, planning on a large-scale attack in Germany. Police noted that the bomb was made of materials easily found in any hardware store.
The portrait assembled by German officials and news media this week is significantly different.
Much of it comes from January and February 2015 psychiatric reports made during and just after he was released from a care center in Ansbach, where he had been treated for attempting suicide by slashing his left wrist.
In these reports, he is noted as having said: “I’m afraid of death and humiliation. I don’t want to carry arms and direct them against people. I’m afraid to return to Syria because I could become a killer.”
According to the reports, Daleel told his doctors he had worked in his father’s silk factory until he left Syria in 2013, then made his way from Turkey to Bulgaria, where he was granted refugee status. He moved to Germany in 2014. To add to the confusion, he told a Bulgarian television interviewer once that he had been a math teacher in Aleppo.
There are no accounts of him being treated for severe injuries in this time, but he did tell doctors that a missile fired by Assad’s forces hit his home in Aleppo, killing his wife and infant son.
According to German media, he told his doctors that “after the death of his wife and son, he felt he had nothing left to live for.”
He also allegedly told his caregivers: “I will not return to Bulgaria alive” when faced with deportation. That order was to have become effective July 26, two days after Daleel blew himself up.
While Al Nabaa portrayed a ruthless insurgent at ease with destruction and violence, those who treated him after his suicide attempts saw him as intensely fragile. On Feb. 11, 2015, one doctor noted that Daleel was “Deeply depressed with persisting suicidal tendencies which from our view urgently warrant continued psychiatric treatment.”
Another therapist, just 10 days before, had noted, “He is an extreme character. It has to be expected that he will stage his suicide in a spectacular way.”
An aide assigned to help him adapt in Germany told German media that he once met an angry Daleel on the street, carrying a bottle of gasoline in a bag, and on his way to a government immigration office. The aide said he was able to calm Daleel down.
The final diagnosis of one of his caregivers was blunt: “In case of deportation, a high degree, acute risk of suicide.”
That report led in 2015 to the cancellation of an order of deportation to Bulgaria. But his counseling was stopped in 2016 due to budget cuts. On July 13, the Federal Refugee Office told him he had 30 days, during which he had to leave Germany and return to Bulgaria, where he had legal refugee status.
Herrmann said the evidence on Daleel’s cellphone indicated “an intense chat . . . there seems to have been direct contact to someone just before the attack.” The Bavarian newspaper Muenchner Merkur reported that Herrmann said the conversation was with someone in the Middle East.
Matthew Schofield: @mattschodcnews