Germany hunts accomplices of Berlin terror driver

BERLIN: Germany on Saturday searched for possible accomplices of the suspected Berlin truck attacker who was gunned down by Italian police, as Tunisia announced the arrest of three men linked to the terrorist. One of those detained was the nephew of the Tunisian-born attack suspect Anis Amri, the country’s interior ministry said. The three men, aged between 18 and 27, were arrested on Friday and were members of a “terrorist cell…connected to the terrorist Anis Amri”,” it said in a statement. It made no direct link between the trio and the attack on Monday, when Amri is believed to have hijacked a truck and used it to mow down holiday revellers at a Berlin Christmas market, killing 12 people.
The 24-year-old then went on the run and was the focus of a frantic four-day manhunt, before being shot dead by police in Milan after opening fire first.
The Berlin rampage was claimed by the IS group, which released a video Friday in which Amri is shown pledging allegiance to IS chief Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. The Tunisian interior ministry said Amri had sent money to his nephew and shared his extremist views with him. “One of the members of the cell is the son of the sister of the terrorist (Amri) and during the investigation he admitted that he was in contact with his uncle through (the messaging service) Telegram,” it said.
Amri allegedly urged his nephew to adopt “takfiri” ideology “and asked him to pledge allegiance to Daesh (IS),” it said. The fact that Amri was able to travel to Italy unhindered despite a Europe-wide arrest warrant has raised uncomfortable questions for intelligence agencies. German security services have also faced strong criticism for not keeping better tabs on Amri before the attack, even though he was known to them and suspected of plotting an attack.
But Interior Minister Thomas de Maziere denied there had been a blanket security failure.
It “is impossible to monitor every person suspected of posing a threat around the clock,” de Maiziere told the newspaper Bild am Sonntag. Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday pledged a “comprehensive” analysis of how the known extremist was able to slip through the net. “We will now intensively examine to what extent official procedures need to be changed,” she said. Amri was killed after pulling out a pistol and firing at two officers who had stopped him for a routine identity check Friday near Milan’s Sesto San Giovanni railway station. He lightly wounded one of the officers before being killed by 29-year-old police rookie Luca Scata.
Police said Amri had shouted “bastard police” in Italian before opening fire.
According to Milan police chief Antonio De Iesu, Amri had a few hundred euros on him but no telephone.
Media reports said a train ticket found in Amri’s backpack suggested he had boarded a train in Chambery, southeastern France, and passed through Turin before arriving in Milan.
French national police chief Jean-Marc Falcone on Saturday said investigators were working closely with their German and Italian counterparts to piece together Amri’s route.
German investigators are now racing to find out whether Amri had help from accomplices.
“It is very important for us to determine whether there was a network of accomplices…in the preparation or the execution of the attack, or the flight of the suspect,” federal prosecutor Peter Frank told reporters Friday.
Amri’s port of entry to Europe was Italy, arriving on a migrant boat in 2011.
He then spent four years in prison there for starting a fire in a refugee centre, during which time he was apparently radicalised.
After serving his sentence he made his way to Germany in 2015, taking advantage of Europe’s Schengen system of open borders — as he did on his return to Italy this week.
German security agencies began monitoring Amri in March, suspecting that he was planning break-ins to raise cash for automatic weapons to carry out an attack.
But the surveillance was stopped in September because Amri, who was supposed to have been deported months earlier, was seen primarily as a small-time drug dealer.
The case has reignited tensions over the more than one million migrants and refugees who have arrived in Germany since last year.
Germany’s populist anti-migration AfD party, which has blamed the attack on Merkel’s liberal asylum policy, surged to a year-high of more than 15 per cent support in a poll on Friday, ahead of a general election expected next September. — Reuters