Germany hunts possible accomplices of Berlin attacker
BERLIN: Germany was hunting for possible accomplices of the suspected Berlin truck attacker on Saturday, a day after he was killed in a shoot-out with Italian police in Milan.
As most of the country readied to celebrate Christmas Eve, Germany’s under-pressure authorities said hundreds of investigators would be working on the probe throughout the holiday season.
Tunisian Anis Amri, 24, is believed to have hijacked a truck and used it to mow down holiday revellers at a Berlin Christmas market on Monday, killing 12 people in an attack claimed by the Islamic State group.
The rejected asylum seeker then went on the run and was the focus of a frantic four-day manhunt.
The fact that he was able to travel to Italy with ease despite being subject to a European arrest warrant has raised uncomfortable questions for intelligence agencies.
Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday expressed relief that the fugitive no longer posed a threat, but warned that “the danger of terrorism in general endures”.
She pledged a “comprehensive” analysis of how the known jihadist was able to slip through the net in the first place.
“The Amri case raises questions,” she said. “We will now intensively examine to what extent official procedures need to be changed.”
Amri was shot dead 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.
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 focusing on 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.
The authorities have faced fierce criticism in recent days for not keeping better tabs on Amri, who was a known criminal.
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 security failings in the case have also 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 asylum policy, surged to a year-high of more than 15 percent support in a poll on Friday, ahead of a general election expected next September.
In his Christmas message, President Joachim Gauck urged Germans to remain united and not to give in to fear. “Especially in times of terror attacks, we must not deepen the divisions,” he said.
Merkel on Friday promised that Germany would be “significantly accelerating” the deportation of rejected asylum seekers.