German police detain Tunisian with links to Berlin attacker

The 40-year old man had alleged links to Anis Amri, who was shot dead in Italy last week, four days after killing 12 people by driving a hijacked lorry through the market.
The smashed window of the cabin of a lorry which ran into a crowded Christmas market on December 19 in Berlin. German prosecutors said they have detained a Tunisian man they think may have been involved in last week's attack. AP Photo/Markus Schreiber
The smashed window of the cabin of a lorry which ran into a crowded Christmas market on December 19 in Berlin. German prosecutors said they have detained a Tunisian man they think may have been involved in last week's attack. AP Photo/Markus Schreiber

Berlin // German police on Wednesday detained a Tunisian they believe “could have been involved” in the Berlin Christmas market attack.

The 40-year old man had alleged links to Anis Amri, who was shot dead in Italy last week, four days after killing 12 people by driving a hijacked lorry through the market.

The arrest was the first in Germany by investigators seeking to uncover if Amri had accomplices in the December 19 attack.

“Anis Amri had saved the number of this 40-year-old Tunisian national in his phone. The investigations indicate that he could have been involved in the attack,” the federal prosecutor’s office said.

The suspect was taken into custody early on Wednesday after federal police officers searched his Berlin home and work premises.

“The extent to which the suspicions against the detained person can be confirmed remains subject to further investigation,” the statement added.

Amri, 24, went on the run and was the focus of a four-day manhunt before being shot dead by police in Milan after opening fire first.

German police said they found his fingerprints and his temporary residence permit in the cab of the lorry used in the Berlin attack, next to the body of its registered Polish driver, who was killed with a gunshot to the head.

ISIL admitted to carrying out the Berlin rampage and released a video last Friday in which Amri pledged his allegiance to the extremist’s chief Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi.

More than a week after the attack, investigators were still battling to find out if Amri had help before and after the assault.

Three other men, including Amri’s nephew, were arrested by Tunisian police last Friday.

Separately, investigators came closer to tracing Amri’s escape route to Milan.

The Tunisian had boarded an overnight bus at the Dutch city of Nijmegen, near the German border, that took him to Lyon in central France, sources close to the investigation said.

Wim de Bruin, spokesman for the Dutch public prosecution service said: “We believe he was in Nijmegen, most likely last Wednesday.”

“There are video images and it’s very likely him,” Mr De Bruin said, adding that “it’s most likely here where he received a SIM card,” which Italian police later found on his body.

Amri got off the bus at the Lyon-Part-Dieu rail station, one of the sources said.

Surveillance cameras filmed Amri at the station last Thursday.

From there, he took a train to the French Alpine town of Chambery before heading to Milan.

A train ticket from Lyon to Milan via Turin was also found on Amri’s body.

But investigators are still trying to determine how Amri was able to leave Berlin and cross most of Germany to reach the Netherlands.

Amri was known to Tunisian police as a juvenile delinquent who drank and took drugs.

In 2011, he left his home country for Italy. There he spent four years in prison 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 last week.

German security agencies began monitoring Amri in March, suspecting he was planning break-ins to raise cash for automatic weapons to carry out an attack.

But the surveillance was halted in September because Amri, who was supposed to have been deported months earlier, was seen primarily as a small-time drug dealer.

*Agence France-Presse

Published: December 28, 2016 04:00 AM

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