Officials hunt supply network of attacker
Investigators yesterday sought to hunt down where the Berlin Christmas market attacker got possible logistical support to cross at least two European borders and evade capture for days before being killed in a police shootout during a routine stop in a Milan suburb.
Tunisian fugitive Anis Amri’s fingerprints and wallet were found in a truck that plowed into a Christmas market in Berlin on Monday night, killing 12 people and injuring 56 others. Despite an intense, Europe-wide manhunt, Amri fled across Germany, into France and then into Italy, traveling at least part of the way by train, before being shot early Friday on foot outside a deserted train station.
The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the Berlin attack, but so far little is known about any possible logistical network backing the 24-year-old fugitive. Italian investigators were working to see if the Tunisian had any connections in the Milan area. Italy was his port of entry into Europe in 2011 and he spent more than three years in Italian jails on
Sicily. But an anti-terrorism official said there was no evidence that he had ever been in or around Milan before Friday’s shootout. In Tunisia, the Interior Ministry announced the arrest Friday of Amri’s nephew and two others suspected of belonging to the same extremist network. The ministry said in a statement that Amri, through an alias, had sent his 18-year-old nephew Fedi some money through the post office to join him in Europe and join the Abou Walaa network. Amir claimed to be the network’s emir.
It is unclear whether those suspects were in any position to help Amri flee Berlin. The ministry said during questioning, the nephew said he was in contact with Amri via Telegram’s encrypted communications to avoid detection. He told police that Amri had recruited him to jihad and asked him to pledge allegiance to IS. The nephew recorded such a pledge and sent it to Amri via Telegram.
The Tunisian prosecutor’s office ordered all three held in pre-trial detention pending further investigation. In Spain, police were investigating whether Amri was in contact with another possible extremist in Spain, on a tip from German authorities. “We are studying all possible connections (between Amri) and our country, above all with one specific person,” Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido told Spanish radio.
Italy has found itself at the center of the Berlin attack investigation after the dramatic shootout that ended the manhunt. The deserted train station and the late hour prompted Italian officers to check the North African man’s identity, officials said. Instead of pulling out an identity card, Amri produced a loaded .22 caliber gun, shooting a senior officer in the shoulder before a rookie officer killed him with a single shot to the chest.
Amri had arrived in the southern island of Lampedusa illegally in 2011, claiming to be a minor, and quickly landed in jail after setting fire to a migrant center. After he was freed, efforts to deport him failed for bureaucratic reasons. He reached Germany, where authorities were concerned enough about him to put him under covert surveillance for six months earlier this year, ending the operation in September. His request for asylum was refused by Germany in the summer, but the paperwork from Tunisia that was needed to deport him was delayed for months. Tunisian officials say that’s because Amri used at least six different names and three different nationalities in travels around Europe, and they had to check each one. — AFP