The attack was brutally simple and hideously effective. It also bears the classic signs of sectarian calculation.
The terrorist, armed with a gun, killed a truck driver and stole his very large vehicle. The terrorist then drove the large truck into the midst of a jam-packed Christmas market near Berlin's historic Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church.
Simple: A motivated terrorist with a weapon seizes a big vehicle and drives it into a crowd. Effective: He kills a dozen people, and then escapes.
A statement issued by ISIS's propaganda bureau, added that the ISIS "soldier" conducted "the attack in response to calls for targeting citizens of the Crusader coalition..."
German citizens were targeted because their country is part of a broad multinational coalition battling the Islamic state. That coalition includes many Muslim nations, so the "Crusader" appellation serves as a targeting clue.
German citizens thronging the Berlin street were the flesh and blood targets, but the Christmas market provided the Islamist terrorists with symbolic targets.
"Icon target" is the term for a target that has distinctive moral, ideological, psychological or metaphorical significance in addition to its own physical existence and function. In fact, the target's representative significance may vastly exceed its physical value.
Icon targets crop up in conventional warfare. The U.S. Navy ships anchored at Pearl Harbor in December 1941 had immense military value based on their existence and function. Japan attacked them and badly damaged American naval power worldwide. Tokyo in 1942 had huge economic value, but as Japan's capital it had symbolic significance as well. The April 1942 Doolittle air attack on Tokyo did little damage to the city and certainly didn't diminish Japanese military strength. However, the raid shocked the Japanese people and demonstrated Japanese vulnerability. It also boosted American morale.
Terrorist attacks always have psychological and propaganda goals. Striking an icon target increases psychological shock and adds propaganda value.
9/11's targets were icon targets that made propaganda statements. Al-Qaida attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon because they symbolized American economic and military power. In the mind of Osama Bin Laden, damaging the buildings symbolized his goal of eventually destroying American power and replacing it with a global Caliphate. Al-Qaida's attack on the U.N. Assistance Mission in Iraq headquarters (Baghdad, August 2003) also had an iconic component.
Islamist terrorists also used a large truck to kill 86 people the July 14, 2016 Bastille Day terror attack in Nice, France. French citizens were the physical target, but the icon target was the date. Bastille Day is France's National Day and commemorates the beginning of the French Revolution. The day connects to French national identity and French democracy. The Islamist terrorists targeted people, but militant Islamists despise democracy.
As Iraqis went to the polls in January 2005, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, al-Qaida's commander in Iraq, declared a "fierce war on this evil principle of democracy." He feared that Iraqis preferred democracy to his theological fascism.
The Berlin Christmas market attack exhibits the same despicable calculation as Bastille Day in Nice. German citizens (belonging to the "Crusader coalition") were the physical targets. However, the Christmas season -- the Christian holiday -- was the icon.
Meanwhile, in northern Iraq, Iraqi forces are fighting house to house in the Islamic State's capital, Mosul. Crusader coalition? Iraq is overwhelmingly Muslim.
ISIS, with its relentless atrocities, its sensational terror, mass rape and genocide, created the anti-ISIS coalition.
The latest ISIS suicide bomb offensive in Iraq is an attempt to incite a Shiite Muslim versus Sunni Muslim war in the country. ISIS commanders would love to incite Muslim versus Christian violence in Europe. Both are desperate gambits to fracture the coalition that is slowly destroying the Islamic State's rump, but still iconic, Caliphate.