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Islamic State claims German suicide bomber was former militant fighter

An image from Al-Nabaa, an online magazine of the Islamic State, showing Mohammad Daleel, a bomber who killed himself and injured 15 people in an attack Sunday in the southern town of Ansbach. (Uncredited/AP)

The Islamic State on Wednesday claimed that a suicide bomber who struck a southern German city had been an active fighter with the extremist group in the Middle East and had drawn on his expertise with explosives to craft the device.

The militants’ al-Nabaa newsletter published an obituary of the assailant, a Syrian asylum seeker who arrived in Germany in 2014 under the name Mohammed Daleel.

The obituary — a gesture the Islamic State generally reserves for prominent figures — claimed the 27-year-old Daleel had regular contact with an operative of the organization in the months prior to the Sunday attack outside a music festival.

But it also suggested that Daleel — not experts within the Islamic State — had personally devised and orchestrated the bombing that left him dead and 15 people wounded.

The claims of past Islamic State links for Daleel contrasted with initial police theories that he was likely a self-radicalized figure possibly influenced by militant propaganda. And — if they are proved true — the Islamic State assertions could bring further scrutiny on possible efforts by the militant group to slip its backers into Europe.

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The Islamic State — which has already claimed responsibility for his attack and issued a video of the assailant — additionally said that German police had almost foiled Daleel's plot. They missed the bomb he spent three months making during a search of his refugee center, it said, because "he hid it quickly before they entered."

German police officials declined to comment on the Islamic State’s account, which came amid a spike in attacks in Germany and neighboring France.

But Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann told reporters that investigators poring over the attacker’s cellphone found evidence that Daleel was in contact with someone in an online chat room immediately before Sunday’s blast in the southern German town of Ansbach.

“Apparently, there has been a direct contact with someone, who decisively influenced the attack,” Herrmann told the German news agency DPA.

Herrmann said it was not clear whether the online chat had been with a member of the Islamic State. The whereabouts of the chat partner also were not known.

“The chat appeared to have ended immediately before the attack,” Herrmann said.

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Experts expressed doubts about the Islamic State's account of Daleel's life but added that it was highly unusual for the group to publish such a detailed obituary of a lone-wolf attacker. The purpose, some said, may simply be to instill more fear.

"This is the first time you have such an elaborate biography" of a lone-wolf attacker, said Fawaz Gerges, author of the book "ISIS: A History."

“By publishing it, ISIS is trying to say, ‘We’ve infiltrated your society.’ This is taking the fight to a different level,” he added, using one of the acronyms for the Islamic State.

But other experts dismissed the group’s claims outright. “I don’t believe ISIS had any idea who he was,” said Azeem Ibrahim, a Britain-based security expert. “Most of these attackers claiming to be supporters of ISIS had no contact with the organization at all.”

Whether fact or fiction, the group painted a picture of Daleel as a longtime militant who began fighting for Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, before switching allegiances to the Islamic State. The group claimed he had been attached to a unit specializing in grenades and molotov cocktails.

After Daleel was injured in battle, the group said, he was “brought out” of the Middle East to Europe, where he began praising the Islamic State on social media. The group claimed he tried to return to Syria to continue fighting. But, when he failed, he contacted the group with his plan to stage an attack. The group claimed he had stayed in regular contact while planning the operation.

German authorities say Daleel initially sought asylum in Bulgaria and Austria before arriving in Germany in 2014.

Daleel, officials say, had been treated for psychiatric problems, had twice tried to kill himself and had been detained for drug possession and other petty crimes. Although he was due to be deported back to Bulgaria — where he had earlier been granted asylum — Herrmann said officials delayed the order because of what they believed to be his fragile mental state.

Daleel received a new deportation order nine days before the attack.

Heba Habib in Cairo and Stephanie Kirchner in Berlin contributed to this report.

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