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Berlin suspect 'was under investigation'

December 21, 2016

German officials are searching for a Tunisian man whose ID was found under the driver's seat of the truck used in Monday's attack. The suspect was said to already have been under investigation for a terror plot.

Fahndungsfoto Anis Amri (picture alliance / -/Bundeskriminalamt/dpa)
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Bundeskriminalamt

Jaeger: Suspect was known to German security agencies

German authorities said on Wednesday that they are searching for a Tunisian man in connection with Monday's terror attack in Berlin, publishing a Europe-wide wanted notice and launching police raids across the country. Police commandos stormed two Berlin apartments late Monday, searching for the 24-year-old, according to the German daily "Die Welt." The search reportedly came up empty. Police later said information published in "Die Welt" was incorrect. 

The man has already being investigated in connection with an act of terrorism. The authorities noted his contacts with German Salafists, who follow an extremely conservative brand of Islam, according to the interior minister of German state North-Rhine Westphalia (NRW) Ralph Jäger.

They also launched a probe, based on suspicions that the 24-year-old Anis Amri was preparing "a serious crime against the state." 

"Security agencies shared their findings and information about this person with the Joint Counter-Terrorism center, most recently in November 2016," he told reporters on Wednesday.

Earlier this year, the authorities received a tip from federal security agencies that the suspect might be planning a break-in. Officials suspected Amri could use the loot to buy automatic weapons.

According to prosecutors in Berlin, the authorities placed the Tunisian under surveillance sometime after March.

While the surveillance data showed that the man was involved in a drug dealing and a bar brawl, it turned up no evidence to confirm the original suspicion. The monitoring was canceled in September this year.

Jaeger: Suspect was known to German security agencies

Tunisian radio station Radio Mosaique reported that Amri served four years in an Italian jail for burning down a school. The outlet cited Amri's father and Tunisian security officials as sources.

No papers - no deportation

Interior Minister Jäger added that the suspect was living in NRW before traveling to Berlin in February. He also confirmed that the man applied for the asylum and was rejected.  

However, the authorities ran into bureaucratic hurdles while trying to repatriate him.

"The man could not be deported because he had no valid ID papers," Jäger told the media.

He added that the Tunisia has initially denied that this man was their citizen.

"The papers only arrived today," he said. "I will not comment on this any further."

Also on Wednesday, some 150 police officers raided a migrant shelter in Emmerich, near the Dutch border, where the suspect reportedly lived before moving to Berlin. The raid is a part of a nationwide manhunt.

Germany also issued a wanted notice for the suspect, saying that he should be considered armed and dangerous. The man, known as Anis A. and reported to be in his early 20s, has used several other aliases and claimed at least three nationalities. A bounty of 100,000 euro ($104,440) has also been offered for information leading to his arrest.

Papers found at the scene

Police earlier said they had found the man's identity documents under the seat of the truck that plowed into a crowd of people at a Christmas market in Berlin's Breitscheidplatz, killing 12 and injuring at least 48.

Speaking to the reporters Wednesday, Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said: "There is a new suspect we are searching for - he is a suspect but not necessarily the assailant."

Conservative lawmaker Stephan Meyer confirmed the suspect was from Tunisia had been under investigation for extremist tendencies. "We are apparently talking about a potentially dangerous suspect who was known to authorities and belonged to the Salafist-Islamist scene," Meyer said.

An official for Tunisia's foreign ministry, speaking on condition of anonymity, told news agency AP that the ministry was trying to verify the information provided by German police. A Pakistani man was previously arrested and released over the terror strike.

Andre Schulz of the German detectives union told broadcaster ZDF late on Tuesday that investigators had gathered "good evidence" and "a lot of leads."

"I am relatively confident that we can present a new suspect as early as tomorrow or in the near future," he said.

dj/rc (dpa, Reuters, AFP)