Intelligence indicating the possible presence of terrorists linked to the Berlin truck attack contributed to the decision to strike Libyan camps 28 miles southwest of Sirte last week, a U.S. official and a source close to Libyan intelligence told CNN.
On Dec. 19, 2016, the Tunisian extremist Anis Amri drove a truck into a Christmas market in the German capital, killing 12. Police shot him dead four days later near Milan, Italy. Soon after, ISIS released a selfie-video he prerecorded from a Berlin bridge claiming he was acting on its behalf. Investigative files obtained by CNN showed he was part of an ISIS recruitment network inside Germany.
Overnight on January 18-19, two B-2 bombers making a 30-hour round trip from Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, dropped 100 precision munitions on the camps, killing more than 80 ISIS fighters, according to initial Pentagon estimates.
In a news conference on January 19, outgoing Defense Secretary Ash Carter said, “Importantly, these strikes were directed against some of ISIL’s external plotters, who were actively planning operations against our allies in Europe … and may also have been connected with some attacks that have already occurred in Europe.”
The United States is still working to confirm whether the external plotters suspected of links to the Berlin attacks were killed in the strikes, a U.S. official told CNN.
The sources did not elaborate on the nature of the links to the Berlin attacker, but one possibility is that an individual or individuals at the Libyan camps were in communication with him.
During investigations into Amri before the Berlin attack, two Libyan cell phone numbers were flagged by the German foreign intelligence service BND for further investigation, Germany’s Ministry of Interior revealed last week. In a chronology it released, the ministry also stated Amri had wanted to join ISIS in Syria, Iraq or Libya and was believed to have lived in Berlin with a Moroccan national whose paternal cousins were said to be ISIS members in Syria, Iraq and Libya.
Pentagon officials say among those present in the camps were ISIS fighters who had fled from the group’s previous stronghold in Sirte who were trying to reconstitute themselves and conduct training.
“We’ve been watching them for some time,” Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said. “These were groups of fighters who have been on the move. They have not stayed in the same place for extended periods of time. And this was an opportunity that presented itself that we wanted to take advantage of.”