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Berlin attack aftermath

Blame traded over Berlin truck attack

Leading German parties have traded blame at a parliamentary hearing over failure to deter Tunisian Anis Amri before he staged his pre-Christmas fatal truck attack. It's election-year posturing, say opposition parties.

Bundestag Innenausschuss zu Amri

SPD interior minister Jäger (R--foreground) with senior NRW intelligence officials

Monday's Bundestag interior committee hearing into why authorities lost track of Amri before he murdered 12 people at a Berlin Christmas market culminated in denials of responsibility among parties within Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition.

Stephan Mayer, interior affairs expert of Bavaria's Christian Social Union (CDU) party - long aligned with Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) - put the blame on North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), the German state where the rejected asylum-applicant had been registered.

Stephan Mayer

CSU's Stephan Mayer accuses Jäger of lacking 'vehemence'

NRW authorities had not pursued an intended expulsion of Amri back to Tunisia during 2016 with the necessary "urgency and vehemence," Mayer told journalists after the hearing, claiming that NRW had not exhausted all possibilities to expel Amri from Germany.

Procedures 'impracticable,' says Jäger

Ralf Jäger, NRW's interior minister within a regional NRW cabinet led by Social Democratic (SPD) party, which also governs within Merkel's federal cabinet, replied that federal German expulsion arrangements with Tunisia as well as Morocco and Algeria were "impracticable."

Furthermore, Germany's Berlin-based GTAZ anti-terrorism center staffed by numerous federal and regional state officials had concluded that Amri had posed no immediate danger, Jäger said.

Prosecutors in the Rhine river city of Duisburg, where Amri was registered, had assessed that Amri's collective offences did not amount to grounds for expulsion and identity documents from Tunisia were unavailable, he added. 

Close surveillance

Up until September, German authorities had the presumed Islamist radical Amri under close surveillance as one of 500 to 600 "Gefährder," a German term for public menace.

When Milan police shot dead the fleeing Tunisian after the Berlin attack, Amri had already spent one-and-half years in Germany, using more than a dozen false identities while active in the drugs scene and listed as a minor offender.

"Errors were made everywhere," said interior affairs spokesman Burkhard Lischka for the SPD's federal parliamentary group in the Bundestag.

"It's of no use, if one wants in the future to prevent such cases, to point [the finger] at others in terms of responsibility," said Lischka.

Pre-election campaigning

Opposition Left party parliamentarian Frank Tempel told the press that the exchanges at the hearing between Merkel's CDU/CSU and the center-left SPD reflected "campaigning" in the lead-up to Germany's federal election in September.

Interior affairs Left spokeswoman, Ulla Jelpka, who often scrutinizes government actions via questions-to-parliament, said the readiness of representatives of German agencies to admit failings was "practically non-existent."

Document insight lacking

Opposition Greens parliamentary group deputy chairman Konstantin von Notz criticized the format of Monday's hearing, saying parliamentarians were hamstrung by not having access to documents on the Amri case.

Present at Monday's hearing were also the presidents of Germany's VfS domestic intelligence agency, its BKA police investigations agency, and Germany's BND foreign intelligence agency.

Bundestag Innenausschuss zu Amri

Berlin's senator Geisel (L) at Monday's hearing

NRW, Germany's most populace state of 18 million, elects its Düsseldorf assembly on May 14. That poll is widely seen as a key sampling ahead of Germany's federal election on September 24.

Round-the-clock unrealistic

At a parallel interior affairs committee meeting of the Berlin city-state assembly on Monday, Berlin interior senator Andreas Geisel of the SPD said it was unrealistic to expect round-the-clock observations of 550 Islamist "Gefahrder" in Germany.

For that, 16,000 police officers working in shifts would be required, Geisel said.

"They are not available. And, they will not be provided," Geisel said.

Telephone observation of Amri delivered no insights into his intentions and was therefore ended in September 2016, he said.

Video monitoring of the Fussilet Mosque in Berlin's Moabit district had only "ascertained that an Islamist had gone into a mosque," Geisel said. Doing so were no grounds for arrest.

The chief of Berlin's investigative police bureau, Christian Steiof, said observation of all suspects was "utterly impossible and will never be doable."

ipj/rc (dpa, AFP)

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