4 said arrested over Berlin truck attack
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4 said arrested over Berlin truck attack

German authorities won’t confirm if presumed attacker Anis Amri is among suspects picked up

A police officer guards the entrance to a Christmas market in Magdeburg, Germany, Tuesday Dec. 20, 2016, one day after a truck ran into a crowded Christmas market in Berlin killing several people. (Peter Gercke/dpa via AP)
A police officer guards the entrance to a Christmas market in Magdeburg, Germany, Tuesday Dec. 20, 2016, one day after a truck ran into a crowded Christmas market in Berlin killing several people. (Peter Gercke/dpa via AP)

Four people have been arrested by German authorities in connection with the truck-ramming attack at a Berlin Christmas market this week that killed 12 and left 48 injured, the German daily Bild reported Thursday.

Germany’s chief federal prosecutor confirmed the arrests, the paper said. It was not immediately clear if the chief suspect, a Tunisian man thought to have driven the truck during the attack, was among those detained.

German authorities issued a wanted notice for Anis Amri on Wednesday and offered a reward of up to €100,000 ($104,000) for information leading to the 24-year-old’s arrest, warning that he could be “violent and armed.”

Amri’s family has urged him to turn himself in.

“I ask him to turn himself in to the police. If it is proved that he is involved, we dissociate ourselves from it,” brother Abdelkader Amri told the Associated Press.

He said Amri may have been radicalized in prison in Italy, where he went after leaving Tunisia in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings.

His father reportedly told The Times that Amri had been a “troublemaker” who had fallen under the influence of drugs and alcohol. His mother, who said she had spoken with Amri days before the attack, told Tunisian media that she would disown her son if it turned out he was guilty.

German media reported several locations were searched overnight, including a refugee home in Emmerich on the Dutch border. There was no immediate comment from federal prosecutors, who are leading the investigation.

Europe-wide manhunt

The manhunt also prompted police in Denmark to search a Sweden-bound ferry in the port of Grenaa after receiving tips that someone resembling Amri had been spotted. But police said they found nothing indicating his presence.

An Israeli woman, Dalia Elyakim, was identified as one of the 12 killed in the attack, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said early Thursday.

Israelis Dalia and Rami Elkayam, who were caught up in the attack at a Christmas market in Berlin on December 19, 2016. Dalia was killed and Rami was wounded (Image from Facebook)
Israelis Dalia and Rami Elkayam, who were caught up in the attack at a Christmas market in Berlin on December 19, 2016. Dalia was killed and Rami was wounded (Image from Facebook)

In a revelation likely to stoke public anger, German officials said they had already been investigating Amri, suspecting he was planning an attack.

The interior minister of North Rhine-Westphalia state, Ralf Jaeger, said counter-terrorism officials had exchanged information about Amri, most recently in November, and a probe had been launched suspecting he was preparing “a serious act of violence against the state”.

Berlin prosecutors said separately that Amri had been suspected of planning a burglary to raise cash to buy automatic weapons, “possibly to carry out an attack.”

But after keeping watch on him from March until September this year they failed to find evidence of the plot, learning only that Amri was a small-time drug dealer, and the surveillance was stopped.

The photo which was sent to European police authorities and obtained by AP on Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016 shows Tunisian national Anis Amri, who is wanted by German police for an alleged involvement in the Berlin Christmas market attack. (Police via AP)
The photo which was sent to European police authorities and obtained by AP on Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016 shows Tunisian national Anis Amri, who is wanted by German police for an alleged involvement in the Berlin Christmas market attack. (Police via AP)

The New York Times reported, citing US officials, that Amri had done online research on how to make explosive devices and had communicated with IS at least once, via Telegram Messenger. He was also on a US no-fly list.

Amri left Tunisia after the 2011 revolution and lived in Italy for three years, a Tunisian security source said. Italian media said he served time in prison there for setting fire to a school.

He arrived in Germany in July 2015 but his application for asylum was rejected this June.

His deportation, however, got caught up in red tape with Tunisia, which long denied he was a citizen.

Merkel under pressure

The apparent security failings in the case triggered fresh criticism of Merkel’s refugee policy, which has seen over a million people arrive since last year.

The record influx has fueled support for the nationalist anti-migrant AfD party, which has accused Merkel of endangering the country. But even within her own CDU party, dissent grew louder.

“Nationwide, there are a large number of refugees about whom we don’t know where they’re from or what their names are. And that’s a potential major security issue,” said Klaus Bouillon, interior minister of Saarland state.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives on December 20, 2016 at the site where a truck crashed into a Christmas market near the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedaechtniskirche (Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church) in Berlin. (AFP PHOTO / DPA / Maurizio Gambarini)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives on December 20, 2016 at the site where a truck crashed into a Christmas market near the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedaechtniskirche (Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church) in Berlin. (AFP PHOTO / DPA / Maurizio Gambarini)

Germany had until now been spared the devastating jihadist carnage that has struck neighboring France and Belgium.

But it has suffered a spate of smaller attacks, including two assaults in July that left 20 people injured. Both were committed by asylum seekers and claimed by IS.

The Berlin Christmas market carnage evoked memories of the July 14 truck assault in the French Riviera city of Nice, where 86 people were killed by a Tunisian IS-sympathizer.

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