Terror threat to Germany ‘remains high’ after killing of Berlin attack suspect

Interior minister says authorities ‘remain vigilant’; IS confirms Anis Amri was behind attack that killed 12

The body of suspected Berlin attacker Ani Amri is covered with a blanket after a shootout near a train station in Milan's Sesto San Giovanni neighborhood, Italy, early Friday, December 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Daniele Bennati)
The body of suspected Berlin attacker Ani Amri is covered with a blanket after a shootout near a train station in Milan's Sesto San Giovanni neighborhood, Italy, early Friday, December 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Daniele Bennati)

The killing of the man believed to have been behind the attack on a Christmas market in Berlin earlier this week doesn’t reduce the terrorist threat to Germany, the country’s top security official said Friday.

The threat “remains high” and security won’t be scaled down, Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said.

De Maiziere praised the two Milan police officers “who did excellent work and acted with great bravery” in killing the Tunisian man in a shootout earlier in the day, ending a Europe-wide manhunt.

“I’m very relieved that this attacker poses no risk anymore,” he said.

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere addresses a press conference in Berlin on December 23, 2016 (AFP PHOTO / Tobias SCHWARZ)
German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere addresses a press conference in Berlin on December 23, 2016 (AFP PHOTO / Tobias SCHWARZ)

He said the case demonstrated “the enormous importance of European and transatlantic cooperation in the fight against terror.”

However he warned: “Although this manhunt was successful, the threat of terrorism is unchanged for Germany. It remains high, the security authorities remain vigilant.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel also warned of an enduring terror threat.

“We can be relieved at the end of this week that the acute danger is over,” Merkel told reporters, welcoming the news that the Tunisian suspect, Anis Amri, was no longer at large.

“However the danger of terrorism in general endures, as it has for several years. We all know that.”

German authorities said they were investigating whether Amri had accomplices. Federal prosecutor Peter Frank told reporters that there were many open questions in the probe into Amri.

“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,” he said.

The Islamic State group confirmed that the man shot dead by Italian police had carried out the deadly truck attack.

“The Berlin attacker carried out a new attack against an Italian police patrol in Milan and was killed in an exchange of fire,” the IS-linked Amaq agency said, referring to the fatal shooting of Amri, the prime suspect in the Berlin attack, by Italian police.

Italian Interior Minister Marco Minniti had said earlier that “The person killed, without a shadow of a doubt, is Anis Amri, the suspect of the Berlin terrorist attack.”

Amri was identified with the help of fingerprints supplied by Germany.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for Monday’s attack outside Berlin’s Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in which a truck plowed into a crowd of shoppers, killing 12 people including an Israeli woman, and injuring 56 others.

Amri, 24, who had spent time in prison in Italy, was stopped by two officers during the routine police check in the Sesto San Giovanni neighborhood of Milan early Friday. He pulled a gun from his backpack after being asked to show his identification and was killed in an ensuing shootout.

This undated picture provided by Najoua Amri on Thursday, Dec. 22, 2016, shows Anis Amri, the fugitive Tunisian extremist suspected in Berlin's deadly Christmas market attack, posing at his parents' house in Oueslatia, central Tunisia. (Courtesy Najoua Amri to AP)
This undated picture provided by Najoua Amri on Thursday, Dec. 22, 2016, shows Anis Amri, the fugitive Tunisian extremist suspected in Berlin’s deadly Christmas market attack, posing at his parents’ house in Oueslatia, central Tunisia. (Courtesy Najoua Amri to AP)

One of the officers, Christian Movio, 35, was shot in the right shoulder and underwent surgery for a superficial wound and was in good condition. Movio’s 29-year-old partner, Luca Scata, fatally shot Amri in the chest.

Amri passed through France before arriving by train at Milan’s central station around 1 a.m. Friday, Milan police chief Antonio de Iesu said. He declined to provide further information, citing the ongoing investigation.

Frank said his office was in contact with Italian authorities to establish what route Amri took.

A Milan anti-terrorism official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk publicly about the investigation, said Amri made his way to the piazza outside the Sesto San Giovanni train station in a suburb of Milan, which is nearly 5 miles from the main train station.

Two police officers became suspicious because it was 3 a.m. and the station was closed and Amri was alone. Authorities are still trying to determine how Amri arrived at the piazza because only a few buses operate at that hour.

Mourners laying flowers and candles at a makeshift memorial in Berlin near the site where two days earlier, a man drove a heavy truck into a Christmas market in an apparent terrorist attack, Dec. 21, 2016. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images via JTA)
Mourners laying flowers and candles at a makeshift memorial in Berlin near the site where two days earlier, a man drove a heavy truck into a Christmas market in an apparent terrorist attack, Dec. 21, 2016. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images via JTA)

“It is now of great significance for us to establish whether the suspect had a network of supporters or helpers in preparing and carrying out the crime, and in fleeing; whether there were accessories or helpers,” Frank said.

Prosecutors also want to know whether the gun Amri was carrying in Milan was the same one used to shoot the Polish driver of the truck he had commandeered for the attack, Frank added. The driver was found dead in the vehicle’s cab.

The Milan anti-terrorism official said investigators also were working to determine what contacts, if any, Amri had in Milan. There is no evidence he ever passed through Milan during his previous stay in Italy, where he spent time after leaving Tunisia in the wake of the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings.

Amri served three and a half years for setting a fire at a refugee center and making threats, among other things — but Italy apparently detected no signs that he was becoming radicalized. He was repeatedly transferred among Sicilian prisons for bad conduct, with prison records saying he bullied inmates and tried to spark insurrections.

His mother said he went from there to Switzerland and then to Germany last year.

Authorities in Germany deemed him a potential threat long before the Berlin market attack, and even kept him under covert surveillance for six months this year.

They had been trying to deport him after his asylum application was rejected in July but were unable to do so because he lacked valid identity papers and Tunisia initially denied that he was a citizen.

Authorities say Amri has used at least six different names and three nationalities in his travels around Europe.

A spokeswoman for Chancellor Angela Merkel, Ulrike Demmer, said the German leader would speak with her Tunisian counterpart later Friday to discuss issues including the deportation of Tunisian citizens.

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