German police detain alleged contact of Berlin truck attacker

German police detain alleged contact of Berlin truck attacker
PHOTO: AFP

BERLIN - German police Wednesday detained a Tunisian they believe "could have been involved" in the Berlin Christmas market attack, with alleged links to Anis Amri, the suspected assailant shot dead in Italy last week.

The arrest was the first in Germany by investigators seeking to discover if Amri had accomplices in the December 19 attack when he allegedly hijacked a truck and drove it into a Berlin Christmas market, killing 12 people.

"The deceased suspect 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 in a statement.

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

Read Also: 'Blood, bodies everywhere' at Berlin Xmas market

"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, northern Italy, after opening fire first.

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

The Berlin rampage was claimed by the Islamic State group, which released a video last Friday in which Amri is shown pledging allegiance to IS 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 authorities last Friday.

On Wednesday, a spokesman at the anti-terrorism unit told AFP that their probe was ongoing, declining to give further details.

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.

Read Also: Attack-hit Berlin Christmas market to reopen

Wim de Bruin, spokesman for the Dutch public prosecution service told AFP: "We believe he was in Nijmegen, most likely last Wednesday."

"There are video images and it's very likely him," 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.

Lorry ploughs into Berlin Christmas market in possible terror attack

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    A lorry ploughed into a busy Christmas market in central Berlin on Monday (Dec 19).

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    At least nine people were killed and 50 more hurt.

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    Police said that the incident was a possible terror attack.

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    Ambulances and heavily armed officers rushed to the area after the driver mounted the pavement of the market in a square popular with tourists.

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    The scenes were reminiscent of July's deadly truck attack in the French city of Nice.

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    "A man who was apparently driving the truck was detained," a police spokeswoman told AFP.

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    As witnesses described scenes of panic and carnage, police said at least nine were killed and 50 others were injured.

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    Four people were seriously injured.

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    "We are investigating whether it was a terror attack but do not yet know what was behind it," a police spokesman said.

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    Authorities said there was no indication of "further dangerous situations in the city near Breitscheidplatz", where the suspected attack took place.

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    Police added they had no indications as yet to the nationality or age of the arrested man.

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    Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel reacted quickly to the tragedy, with spokesman Steffen Seibert tweeting: "We mourn the dead and hope that the many people injured can be helped".

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    Traditional Christmas markets are popular in cities and towns throughout Germany and have frequently been mentioned by security services as potentially vulnerable to attacks.

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    "It's awful. We were in Berlin for Christmas", said American tourist Kathy Forbes. "We also thought it would be safer than Paris."

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    Australian Trisha O'Neill told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation she was only metres from where the truck smashed into the crowded market.

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    "I just saw this huge black truck speeding through the markets crushing so many people and then all the lights went out and everything was destroyed. I could hear screaming and then we all froze," she added.

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    Europe has been on high alert for most of 2016, with terror attacks striking Paris and Brussels, while Germany has been hit by several assaults claimed by the Islamic State group and carried out by asylum-seekers.

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    An axe rampage on a train in the southern state of Bavaria in July injured five people, and a suicide bombing wounded 15 people in the same state six days later.

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    The attack in Berlin also comes five months after Tunisian extremist Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel ploughed a 19-tonne truck into a crowd on the Nice seafront, killing 86 people.

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    In response to the suspected attack in Berlin, French President Francois Hollande said, "The French share in the mourning of the Germans in the face of this tragedy that has hit all of Europe."

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

German magazine Focus quoted unnamed security sources as saying Amri had been texting messages and sending photos to "Islamist friends" only 10 minutes before the attack.

Several German media also quoted government sources as saying the truck came to an automatic stop thanks to the activation of an emergency braking system.

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

Read Also: Berlin truck attack suspect shot dead in Milan

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.

Italian police on Wednesday raided two houses in the town of Aprilia near Rome that Amri had lived in before moving to Germany, police said.

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.

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