German interior minister defends deportation of Berlin terrorist associate | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 01.03.2019
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German interior minister defends deportation of Berlin terrorist associate

A friend of the Berlin Christmas market attacker is at the center of a probe into security shortcomings and a botched investigation. Bilel Ben Ammar was quickly deported following the 2016 truck attack.

Germany's interior minister on Thursday defended the hasty deportation of an Islamic extremist who had dinner with Anis Amri the night before he killed 12 people in a 2016 truck attack on a Berlin Christmas market.

Bilel Ben Ammar, a fellow Tunisian, is being sought for questioning by a parliamentary probe examining shortcomings in the investigation of the December 19, 2016 Berlin attack. After the attack Amri fled to Italy, where he was shot and killed by police.

Presenting a report on Ammar to reporters in Berlin, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said he did not know the whereabouts of Ammar, who was deported to Tunisia on February 1, 2017.

"His place of residence is not known to me at present," Seehofer said, adding that he could not rule out the possibility Ammar had returned to Germany. 

Seehofer said his office had reviewed Ammar's expedited deportation and concluded that it was "thoroughly understandable" because Ammar was viewed as a security threat and any involvement in the Berlin attack could not be proven at the time.

Anis Amri's roadmap to terror

Mystery around Ammar's role

German media reported last week that Ammar had ties to Moroccan intelligence and took photos of the Berlin Christmas market after the attack, which he sent to an unknown phone number two hours later.

Read more: 'Terrorist accomplice' in Anis Amri Berlin attack deported, according to report

The bombshell report has spawned speculation from opposition lawmakers that there may have been a cover-up, which the government has denied.

Watch video 02:45

Still looking for answers after Berlin truck attack

Earlier this week, German media reported that Ammar may have also been in Nice around the time of the July 14, 2016 truck ramming attack by a Tunisian Islamist in the French city that killed 86 people.

Read more: Friend of Berlin truck attacker in France during Nice attack: reports

A screenshot obtained from German police documents showed Ammar had a boarding pass on his phone for a flight from Berlin to Nice dated July 6, 2016 — eight days before the Nice attack. The name on the boarding pass was an alias.

Ammar applied for asylum in Germany under different names and separately claimed to be from Morocco, Egypt and Libya.

Investigators found the boarding pass on Ammar's confiscated phone after he had already been deported to Tunisia. Other photos on the phone showed Ammar in Paris with friends in the days before and after the Nice attack.

It's unclear if Ammar had any contact with the Nice attacker, who is suspected of having had accomplices.

Further pictures found on the phone included those Ammar took from the site of Christmas market attack months before it occurred, as well as images sent to him via social media after the attack.

Seehofer declined to comment on the report that Ammar may have been in Nice, citing an ongoing investigation. 

cw/aw (AFP, AP, dpa)

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