Man Suspected of Helping Berlin Attacker Detained
ABC News – German authorities have detained a 40-year-old Tunisian man who “could have been involved in the attack” on a Christmas market in Berlin, Germany’s federal prosecutor said today in a statement.
The German Federal Prosecutor’s Office did not name the man but described him as a “contact person” for the alleged attacker, Anis Amri, who was shot dead by police in the Italian city of Milan last week. Amri, a 24-year-old Tunisian national, had this man’s phone number stored in his cellphone, according to the prosecutor’s statement.
Investigators are now working to determine exactly what role the unnamed Tunisian man played in the Dec. 19 attack on the Christmas market at Breitscheidplatz, a public square in the heart of Germany’s capital. Authorities searched the man’s offices today, according to the prosecutor’s statement.
Officials have identified Amri as the likely assailant of the deadly attack, citing evidence discovered at the crime scene including fingerprints in the cab of the truck that was used to plow through crowds at the busy marketplace. At least 12 people were killed and dozens more were injured, according to German authorities.
Berlin police spokesman Winfried Wenzel told ABC News on Saturday that Amri’s mobile phone, wallet and ID were discovered inside the cab of the truck. The truck was stolen in Poland from a building site, and its driver, a Polish citizen, was found dead with gunshot wounds in the back of the vehicle. The spokesman said authorities believe a violent struggle took place inside the cab at some point around the time of the attack.
ISIS claimed responsibility for the assault, calling Amri “a soldier of the Islamic State,” in a statement released by the terrorist group.
In a video posted on social media that appears to have been recorded prior to the attack, Amri pledges allegiance to ISIS and says he is avenging the bombing of Muslims, urging others around the world to take up jihad.
“My message to the crusaders who bombard Muslims every day: With God’s will, I swear we’re coming to slaughter you, you pigs,” Amri says. “I encourage all my Muslim brothers in every place to conduct jihad in the name of the religion.”
Ralf Jaeger, the interior minister of the German state of North Rhine–Westphalia, told reporters last week that Amri had known ties to the local radical Islamic scene in Germany and he had been deemed a threat by several security agencies.
Authorities are still trying to piece together Amri’s exact movements following the attack. According to Italian police, he is believed to have traveled through France before arriving on a train at Milan’s central railway station at approximately 1 a.m. local time last Friday morning. Approximately two hours later near a train station in the Sesto San Giovanni area in suburban Milan, Amri was approached by two police officers who wished to conduct a routine identity check. The officers were unaware he was the man at the center of the Europe-wide manhunt.
“He was a man from northern Africa, like there are many in the Milan area, and ours was a routine check that was carried out by two young and good police officers,” Milan Police Chief Antonio de Iesu said at a press conference last Friday.
Sesto San Giovanni Police Chief Roberto Guida told reporters that Amri initially appeared calm while emptying his pockets and satchel. Then, he suddenly pulled out a weapon that had already been loaded and fired once at the chief patrol officer, who was closest to him, before fleeing behind a nearby car. Another officer flanked the assailant and shot him dead, Guida said.
The wounded police officer was taken to a local hospital where he is recovering, according to Italy’s interior ministry.
Italian authorities confirmed the man killed was Amri using fingerprints provided by German authorities, according to German Federal Prosecutor Peter Frank.
On Saturday, Tunisian authorities arrested three men in connection with the Dec. 19 attack in Berlin. Among those arrested is Amri’s nephew, who admitted to using an encrypted chat application to communicate with his uncle, according to Tunisia’s interior ministry.
Amri allegedly encouraged his nephew — the son of his sister — to adopt jihadist ideologies and urged him to pledge allegiance to ISIS. He even sent his nephew money so he could travel to Germany and join the Islamic militant group, according to Tunisia’s interior ministry.
“As he was interrogated, he confessed that he communicates with his uncle through the application Telegram to evade security surveillance using its encryption and secrecy,” the ministry said in a statement on its website.
Amri’s nephew was not named in the statement and the identities of the other two men arrested are unknown except that all three – whom the ministry said comprised a terrorist cell – are between the ages of 18 and 27.
ABC News’ Paul Blake, Molly Hunter, Matthew McGarry Rym Momtaz, Phoebe Natanson, Bruno Nota, Kirit Radia and Ben Gittleson contributed to this report.