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Europe manhunt for Berlin market attacker



Europe manhunt for Berlin market attacker

By Paul Carrel and Joseph Nasr - AAP on December 23, 2016, 6:45 am

A Europe-wide manhunt is under way for the Tunisian man wanted for the Berlin truck attack.

Fingerprints from a Tunisian suspect have been found inside the truck that smashed through a Berlin Christmas market and killed 12 people, with investigators assuming the migrant was at the wheel, officials say.

A hunt is under way across Europe for Anis Amri, 24, as Germany reels from its worst attack in decades.

"We can report today that we have new information that the suspect is with high probability really the perpetrator," Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere told reporters on Thursday.

"In the cab, in the driving cabin, fingerprints were found and there is additional evidence that supports this," he said.

Frauke Koehler, a spokeswoman for the federal prosecutor's office, told reporters: "At this point in the investigation, we assume Anis Amri drove the truck."

Police had carried out searches across Germany on Thursday but made no arrests, she said.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, facing demands to take a much tougher line on immigration and security, said she hoped the perpetrator would be arrested soon.

Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack, in which the truck mowed through a crowd of people and bulldozed wooden huts selling Christmas gifts and snacks beside a famous church in west Berlin.

One of the 12 dead was the Polish driver from whom the truck had been hijacked. His body, stabbed and shot, was found in the cab.

Amri had been identified by security agencies as a potential threat and rejected for asylum, but authorities had not managed to deport him because of missing identity documents.

In Tunisia, two of Amri's brothers, Walid and Abdelkader, said they feared the failed asylum-seeker may have been radicalised by radical Islamists while he spent almost four years behind bars in Italy.

"He doesn't represent us or our family," Abdelkader told Sky News Arabia. "He went into prison with one mentality and when he came out he had a totally different mentality."

The suspected involvement of a migrant - one of more than a million allowed into Germany in the past two years - has intensified political pressure on Merkel, who plans to seek a fourth term in elections next year.

Ringed by concrete bollards, the Berlin market reopened on Thursday, with candles, flowers and flags laid amid the small festive huts in tribute to those killed.

Bild newspaper cited a counter-terrorism investigator as saying it was clear last spring that Amri was looking for accomplices for an attack and was interested in weapons.

The paper said preliminary proceedings had been opened against him in March based on information he was planning a robbery to get money to buy automatic weapons and "possibly carry out an attack".

In mid-2016, he spoke to two Islamic State fighters and Tunisian authorities listened in on their conversation before informing German authorities. Amri also offered himself as a suicide attacker on known Islamist chat sites, Bild said.

Police started looking for him after finding an identity document under the driver's seat of the truck.

The attack has heightened concerns across Europe in days before Christmas. In France, target of three major attacks in the last two years, security around festive markets was strengthened with concrete barriers, and troops were posted at some churches.




Berlin attack suspect's family in shock

AFP on December 23, 2016, 6:59 am

Oueslatia (Tunisie) (AFP) - In shock after he was named the prime suspect in the Berlin market attack, Anis Amri's brother said Thursday he fled Tunisia seeking a better life, but should hand himself in.

"If he is listening to me, I tell him: 'Present yourself' (to the police), so the family can rest easier," Abdelkader Amri told reporters in the family's poor home village in eastern Tunisia.

"If my brother is behind the attack, I say to him 'You dishonour us'," Abdelkader told AFP.

He spoke as his brother was on the run after Monday's attack on a Christmas market, when a large truck ploughed through a crowd, killing 11 people.

A 12th victim, the hijacked truck's Polish driver, was found shot in the cab.

Prosecutors in Germany have issued a Europe-wide wanted notice for 24-year-old Anis Amri, offering a 100,000 euro reward for information leading to his arrest and warning he "could be violent and armed".

On Thursday, his brothers Walid and Abdelkader were still reeling at the news.

Speaking outside their home in Oueslatia, some 50 kilometres (30 miles) from Kairouan, Abdelkader told AFP of his brother's departure from the North African country more than five years ago.

The youngest of nine siblings, with divorced parents and in difficult social circumstances, Amri left the country illegally in March 2011 by sea for the Italian island of Lampedusa.

He was fleeing a court conviction and a sentence of four years handed down in absentia for robbery and burglary, Abdelkader said.

A security official in the area confirmed this information.

- 'He had no future' -

"Anis left to get away from misery -- he had no future in Tunisia and wanted at all costs to improve the family's financial situation. We live below the poverty line, like most families in Oueslatia," Abdelkader said, his eyes red.

His brother Walid added: "He lived like all young people -- he drank, he didn't go to prayers or anything."

Once in Italy, Anis Amri found himself in a detention centre along with other illegal migrants.

But he soon found himself in trouble: he was sentenced to four years in jail for setting fire to a building, Abdelkader said.

"In 2015 he had made it to Germany and was trying to sort himself out. He worked as an agricultural labourer and things like that," he said.

"He'd contact us on Facebook, saying he wanted to come back to Tunisia but that he had to earn some money to buy his own car and start his own business."

According to Walid, "10 days before the attack he told us he was counting on God to get him home in January."

Abdelkader said their brother "was laughing and joking with us. There was no sign he had been radicalised. I'm sure he can't have done this, that's not why he emigrated. May God reveal the truth," he said before bursting into tears, remembering that Thursday was Anis's birthday.

"I want to wish him happy birthday," he added.

Outside the house, their red-faced mother urged curious onlookers to go away.

"Please understand," she pleaded with them. "Leave us alone with our misfortune."

- Risking 'the same fate' -

On Thursday, the suspect's father Mustapha, as on any other day, was taking his cart around town looking for clients to transport their goods.

"Look at my father with his cart, working at that age," Abdelkader told AFP. "Here in Oueslatia, if you don't work you die of hunger."

His friend Faouzi could not contain his anger.

"Tell (President) Beji Caid Essebsi to look after the country's young people!" he cried.

"We've had enough of being ignored. We've rotted in prison! All the young people in Oueslatia risk the same fate as Anis," he warned.

Monday's attack in the German capital was claimed by the Islamic State group, and according to a security official in Oueslatia, IS recruited the suspect in Italy.

"These cursed sons who damage the country," headlined the French-language daily paper La Presse on Thursday.

"There's no point in trying to hide the fact: every time a terrorist attack takes place in the world, the people of Tunisia hold their breath," it said.

"Because many times a cursed son has been responsible for carrying out a major attack."

Walid Anis believes in his brother's innocence, despite the belief in Germany that he carried out the attack.

A temporary residence permit believed to belong to Amri was found in the cab of the 40-tonne lorry, and Germany's interior minister said investigators had also found his fingerprints inside.

"We denounce the accusations against my brother," Walid told AFP. "We know him well. He has done nothing!"