Germany hunts possible accomplices of Berlin attacker

Germany hunts possible accomplices of Berlin attacker
PHOTO: Reuters

Germany was hunting for possible accomplices of the suspected Berlin truck attacker on Saturday, a day after he was killed in a shoot-out with Italian police in Milan.

As most of the country was preparing to celebrate Christmas Eve, Germany's under-pressure authorities said hundreds of investigators would be working on the probe throughout the holiday season.

Tunisian Anis Amri, 24, is believed to have hijacked a truck and used it to mow down holiday revellers at a Berlin Christmas market on Monday, killing 12 people in an attack claimed by the Islamic State group.

The rejected asylum seeker was the focus of a frantic four-day manhunt after the rampage, but his time on the run was cut short by Italian police.

Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday thanked Italy and expressed relief that the fugitive no longer posed a threat, but warned that "the danger of terrorism in general endures".

She pledged a "comprehensive" analysis of how the known jihadist was able to slip through the net in the first place.

Related: Germany says Tunisian's fingerprints found in Christmas market crash truck

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"The Amri case raises questions," she said. "We will now intensively examine to what extent official procedures need to be changed." "How could Europe's most wanted terrorist leave Germany?" asked the respected Die Welt daily on its website, in a nod to the growing criticism of the country's handling of the probe.

Amri was shot dead after pulling out a pistol and firing at two officers who had stopped him for a routine identity check in the early hours of Friday near Milan's Sesto San Giovanni railway station.

He lightly wounded one of the officers before being killed by 29-year-old police rookie Luca Scata, who has since been hailed as a hero.

Police said Amri had shouted "bastard police" in Italian before opening fire.

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According to Milan police chief Antonio De Iesu, Amri had arrived in Italy from Germany via France. He had a few hundred euros on him but no telephone.

The Islamic State group released a video Friday in which Amri is shown pledging allegiance to IS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

German investigators are now focusing on whether Amri had help from accomplices.

"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," federal prosecutor Peter Frank told reporters.

Questions have been raised about whether enough was done to keep tabs on Amri, who was on the radar of anti-terrorism agencies in both Germany and Italy.

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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Amri's port of entry to Europe was Italy, arriving on a migrant boat in 2011. He then spent four years in prison there 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 this week.

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

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

Germany's anti-migration AfD party, which has blamed the attack on Merkel's liberal asylum policy, surged to a year high of more than 15 percent in a poll on Friday, ahead of a general election expected next September.

Justice Minister Heiko Maas has pledged to examine "how to improve surveillance of potentially dangerous persons" and concrete steps to speed up deportations of illegal migrants.

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