Anger grows as manhunt for Berlin attacker intensifies
BERLIN - German authorities came under fire Thursday after it emerged that the prime suspect in Berlin's deadly truck attack, a rejected Tunisian asylum seeker, was known as a potentially dangerous jihadist.
Prosecutors have issued a Europe-wide wanted notice for 24-year-old Anis Amri, offering a 100,000-euro ($104,000) reward for information leading to his arrest and warning he "could be violent and armed".
A temporary residence permit believed to belong to Amri, alleged to have links to the radical Islamist scene, was found in the cab of the 40-tonne lorry that rammed through a packed Christmas market in Berlin Monday, killing 11.
The twelfth victim, the hijacked truck's Polish driver, was found shot in the cab.
Police have searched a refugee centre in Emmerich, western Germany, where Amri stayed a few months ago, as well as two apartments in Berlin.
In a sign of defiance, Berlin was set to reopen the Christmas market at the central Breitscheid square where the articulated truck cut a swathe of death and destruction through the festive crowd.
Organisers said they would dim the lights and tone down the Christmas music but begin serving mulled wine and open the traditional market huts, as Berliners left a sea of flowers and candles at the site in honour of the victims.
But as the manhunt intensified, questions surfaced about how the suspect had been able to slip through the net, avoiding arrest and deportation despite being on the radar of several security agencies.
"The authorities had him in their crosshairs and he still managed to vanish," said Der Spiegel weekly on its website.
The top-selling daily Bild's frontpage headline screamed "Deportation Failure!" while local tabloid B.Z. said starkly "They knew him. They did nothing" next to a photo of the heavyset, dark-haired Amri.
Conservative lawmaker Stephan Mayer, a critic of Chancellor Angela Merkel's liberal stance on asylum, told public radio that the case "held up a magnifying glass" to the failings of her migration policy.
But Armin Laschet, a deputy leader of Merkel's Christian Democrats, placed the blame with regional security authorities, calling their failure to keep tabs on Amri "shocking".
The attack, Germany's deadliest in recent years, has been claimed by the Islamic State group.
Among the confirmed dead were six Germans and an Israeli woman. A total of 48 people were injured.
- 'Planning an attack' -
In a revelation likely to stoke public anger, German officials said they had already been investigating Amri, suspecting he was planning an attack.
The interior minister of North Rhine-Westphalia state, Ralf Jaeger, said counter-terrorism officials had exchanged information about Amri, most recently in November, and a probe had been launched suspecting he was preparing "a serious act of violence against the state".
Berlin prosecutors said separately that Amri had been suspected of planning a burglary to raise cash to buy automatic weapons, "possibly to carry out an attack".
But after keeping watch on him from March until September this year they failed to find evidence of the plot, learning only that Amri was a small-time drug dealer, and the surveillance was stopped.
The New York Times reported, citing US officials, that Amri had done online research on how to make explosive devices and had communicated with IS at least once, via Telegram Messenger. He was also on a US no-fly list.
In Tunisia, Amri's family expressed disbelief on hearing he was wanted.
"I'm in shock, and can't believe it's him who committed this crime," his brother Abdelkader Amri said.
But "if he's guilty, he deserves every condemnation. We reject terrorism and terrorists -- we have no dealings with terrorists."
Amri left Tunisia after the 2011 revolution and lived in Italy for three years, a Tunisian security source said. Italian media said he served time in prison there for setting fire to a school.
He arrived in Germany in July 2015 but his application for asylum was rejected this June.
His deportation, however, got caught up in red tape with Tunisia, which long denied he was a citizen.
- Merkel under pressure -
The apparent security failings in the case triggered fresh criticism of Merkel's refugee policy, which has seen over a million people arrive since last year.
The record influx has fuelled support for the nationalist anti-migrant AfD party, which has accused Merkel of endangering the country. But even within her own CDU party, dissent grew louder.
"Nationwide, there are a large number of refugees about whom we don't know where they're from or what their names are. And that's a potential major security issue," said Klaus Bouillon, interior minister of Saarland state.
Germany had until now been spared the devastating jihadist carnage that has struck neighbouring France and Belgium.
But it has suffered a spate of smaller attacks, including two assaults in July that left 20 people injured. Both were committed by asylum seekers and claimed by IS.
The Berlin Christmas market carnage evoked memories of the July 14 truck assault in the French Riviera city of Nice, where 86 people were killed by a Tunisian IS-sympathiser.