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Germany hunts possible accomplices of Berlin truck attack suspect

Germany on Saturday searched for possible accomplices of the suspected Berlin truck attacker who was gunned down by Italian police.

world Updated: Dec 24, 2016 22:39 IST
Workers place concrete barriers outside the Christmas market at Breitscheid square in Berlin, Germany, December 22, 2016, following an attack by a truck which ploughed through a crowd at the market on Monday night.
Workers place concrete barriers outside the Christmas market at Breitscheid square in Berlin, Germany, December 22, 2016, following an attack by a truck which ploughed through a crowd at the market on Monday night. (REUTERS)

Germany on Saturday searched for possible accomplices of the suspected Berlin truck attacker who was gunned down by Italian police, as Tunisia announced the arrest of three men linked to the jihadist.

One of those detained was the nephew of the Tunisian-born attack suspect Anis Amri, the country’s interior ministry said.

The three men, aged between 18 and 27, were arrested on Friday and were members of a “terrorist cell... connected to the terrorist Anis Amri”,” it said in a statement.

It made no direct link between the trio and the attack on Monday, when Amri is believed to have hijacked a truck and used it to mow down holiday revellers at a Berlin Christmas market, killing 12 people.

The 24-year-old then went on the run and was the focus of a frantic four-day manhunt, before being shot dead by police in Milan after opening fire first.

The Berlin rampage was claimed by the Islamic State group, which released a video Friday in which Amri is shown pledging allegiance to IS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

The arrests come as German authorities are racing to find out whether Amri had help from accomplices before or after the attack.

“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 said Friday.

Seven of the victims were German nationals, a federal police spokeswoman told AFP. The other five came from the Czech Republic, Italy, Israel, Poland and Ukraine.

She declined to provide names or ages.

Criticism

The fact that Amri was able to travel to Italy unhindered despite a Europe-wide arrest warrant has raised uncomfortable questions for intelligence agencies.

German security services have also faced criticism for not keeping better tabs on Amri before the Berlin carnage, even though he was a known criminal with links to the Islamist scene.

But Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere denied there had been a blanket security failure.

It “is impossible to monitor every person suspected of posing a threat around the clock,” he told the newspaper Bild am Sonntag.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has pledged a “comprehensive” analysis of how Amri was able to slip through the net and vowed to speed up the deportation of rejected asylum seekers like him.

The fugitive was killed after pulling out a pistol and firing at two officers who had stopped him for a routine identity check Friday near Milan’s Sesto San Giovanni railway station.

He lightly wounded one officer before being killed by 29-year-old police rookie Luca Scata.

According to Milan police chief Antonio De Iesu, Amri had a few hundred euros on him but no telephone.

Media reports said a train ticket found in Amri’s backpack suggested he had boarded a train in Chambery, southeastern France, and passed through Turin before arriving in Milan.

Amri left Tunisia for Italy in 2011. He 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 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.