Suspected Berlin attacker Anis Amri had torched a migrant camp, was radicalised in Italy, had known connections with German Salafists, and was even on the U.S. ‘no-fly’ list for communicating with Islamic State – but was repeatedly set free by European authorities.
Anis Amri, the Tunisian migrant who is the subject of a manhunt on suspicion of driving a truck through a Christmas market in Berlin, Germany, killing 12 and injuring 48, was well-known to German and Italian authorities and was under investigation in Germany on suspicion of “preparing a serious crime endangering national safety”.
Police had identified Amri as a suspect after finding his temporary German residence permit in the footwell of the truck belonging to slain Polish truck driver Lukasz Urban. This evidence had been missed during searches in the first crucial 24 hours after the attack. DNA evidence also confirms Amri had been in the truck.
‘al Horqa’ – from Tunisia to Italy
The parents of Amri told The Times that Amri was a “violent”, drug-taking troublemaker before he illegally migrated to Europe. Asserting that his son wasn’t religious when he lived in Tunisia, his father said he was radicalised in prison in Italy.
“He dropped out of school and travelled to Italy; he was involved in a robbery and a case of burning down a school and camp. He spent four years in jail in Italy where he met extremist groups which attracted him,” his father confirmed.
Amri left Tunisia in March 2011 in what was called the ‘al Horqa’ – a wave of illegal immigration shortly after the start of the Arab Spring. He landed in Lampedusa and was granted a humanitarian permit to stay.
After setting fire to a migrant centre, he was arrested and spent four years in an Italian jail. It was during this time that it is alleged he was radicalised.
An Italian government source said that while he was still the subject of an expulsion order, he was released and travelled to Germany in 2016. He could not be deported as the Tunisian government could not confirm his identity.
“He was, however, placed on a European list of people who should not be allowed to stay in the Schengen area, something that Germany has access to,” an Italian government source told The Times.
Germany and links to Islamic State
His father confirmed that Amri left Italy with a group of migrants and headed to Germany where he lied about his nationality and presented himself as a Syrian national.
The Tunisian is believed to have links with several Islamist networks in Germany, including the country’s Islamic State ‘leader’, Ahmad Abdelazziz A., also known as Abu Walaa, who was arrested last month on charges of recruiting jihadists.
German intelligence are believed to have been aware of Amri meeting an Islamist in Dortmund and another in Duisburg-Rheinhause who has been linked to Islamist attacks. A counterterrorism investigator told Bild that Amri was also alleged to have attempted to buy a pistol from an undercover police officer.
Footage of Amri has been posted on Facebook. The video was shared on September 26, 2016 in Berlin.
Amri was under investigation since 14 March by German prosecutors who had been informed by intelligence services that Amri had planned a robbery to obtain money to buy automatic weapons “possibly to commit an attack at a later date with co-perpetrators who had yet to be recruited”.
The Tunisian was put under surveillance and his telephone calls were monitored. However, the prosecutors’ office said that these investigations had produced no evidence to back up the accusations and as a result, there was “no basis for prolonging the order for surveillance measures” which were then terminated in September.
However, The New York Times reported that Amri has also appeared on the U.S. intelligence radar for conducting online research on how to make explosive devices and had communicated with Islamic State via Telegram Messenger, according to an anonymous source. He was also on the U.S. ‘no-fly’ list.
Germany had rejected Amri’s asylum request, but, again, was not able to deport him because there were delays in Tunisia confirming his identity and granting him a passport – which was finally issued by Tunisia on Wednesday the 21st of December.