Catalogue of blunders that left 'Berlin terrorist' free to kill
The prime suspect for the Berlin massacre was under covert surveillance for months as a possible terrorist threat until police let him slip through their grasp earlier this month.
Anis Amri, 24, a Tunisian asylum seeker who arrived in Germany last year, was investigated for “preparing a serious crime endangering national safety”, involving funding the purchase of automatic weapons for use in a terrorist attack.
Amri had been arrested earlier this year and was known to be a supporter of the terrorist group thought to be behind the Sousse terrorist attack in Tunisia, as well as being a suspected disciple of a notorious hate preacher.
He had multiple identity documents with six different aliases under three nationalities, and a criminal record in Italy and Tunisia. He spent four years in an Italian prison before travelling to Germany after an expulsion order expired.
The German authorities, who were on Wednesday facing serious questions about how Amri was still at large, tried to deport him in June, but because he had no valid papers proving his nationality he was allowed to stay.
In a further twist, Germany had asked Tunisia to issue a new passport for him so he could be deported, but the document only arrived on Wednesday – two days after the Christmas market attack that claimed 12 lives. It also emerged that the killer might have received hospital treatment for his injuries before slipping away.
As the hunt for Europe’s most wanted man continued:
The Polish lorry driver whose vehicle was hijacked and used in the attack – claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) – was being hailed a hero after police said it was possible he sacrificed his life to cut short the carnage
Yet more pressure was piled on Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, who was already facing criticism from opponents and supporters alike over her “open door” refugee policy that allowed migrants into the country without vetting
Germany was poised to approve new surveillance laws in the hope of disrupting further attacks
Police asked for “vigilance” as they said a second attack was possible
12 of the most seriously injured people from Monday’s attack remained in hospital
A €100,000 (£84,000) reward was offered for information leading to the capture of Amri
Two Britons were treated for shock and minor injuries after being caught in the Christmas market attack.
On Wednesday night, Mrs Merkel was receiving regular updates on the huge manhunt for Amri, whose name was found on documents under the driver’s seat in the cab of the lorry used in the attack.
The hunt spread across the borderless Schengen zone, with police conceding that the suspect could have travelled hundreds of miles since Monday night’s outrage.
His brother Abdelkader Amri said from his home in Tunisia: “When I saw the picture of my brother in the media, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I’m in shock, and can’t believe it’s him who committed this crime. If he’s guilty, he deserves every condemnation. We reject terrorism and terrorists – we have no dealings with terrorists.”
Police are believed to have found Amri’s blood in the lorry’s cab. They now assume that whoever was driving the lorry was badly injured, either when pieces of wood smashed through the windscreen or in a fight with Lucasz Urban, the Polish driver.
Squads of officers have been to every hospital in Berlin and the surrounding state of Brandenburg trying to ascertain if the killer was treated in any of them.
Mr Urban’s injuries suggested he may have been alive as the lorry ploughed into Christmas shoppers, having perhaps been assumed dead by the hijacker who had stabbed and beaten him.
It gave rise to the theory that he grabbed the steering wheel, forcing the lorry off its intended course through the middle of the crowd and potentially saving countless lives. His life came to an end when he was shot in the head by the hijacker.
Mr Urban’s family said he would have fought “to the end”, while a security source said his bloodied and swollen face meant “there must have been a fight”.
Police hunting for Amri are believed to be focusing their search in North Rhine-Westphalia, the industrial area of Germany that borders the Netherlands and Belgium where he had been living when he came under investigation this year.
Prosecutors in Berlin said he was placed under surveillance on March 14 following a tip-off that he might be planning a robbery to finance the purchase of automatic weapons for use in a terrorist attack.
He was observed dealing drugs in a Berlin park and fighting in a bar, but the surveillance was called off in September. Another report suggested his mobile phone was still being monitored but that he went underground earlier this month and police lost track of him.
Amri was arrested in August with a false Italian identity document, but released shortly afterwards. Other sources suggested his arrest was in connection with a grievous bodily harm case.
He had lived in Berlin for most of his stay in Germany, but recently moved back to refugee accommodation in Emmerich, near the Dutch border, which was raided by police yesterday. His family were also being questioned by investigators in Tunisia.
Amri lived with a flatmate who was arrested last month on suspicion of recruiting volunteers to travel to Syria to fight for Isil. The flatmate was one of several men arrested simultaneously, including an extremist preacher called Abu Walaa, known as “the faceless preacher” because he refused to face the camera in videos.
The suspect is believed to have been in contact with Walaa, one of the few extremist preachers in Germany openly to declare his support for Isil, and the group of arrested men.
In another disclosure that raises questions about the police investigation, it was revealed that the Pakistani asylum seeker initially held as a suspect was targeted because he accidentally jumped a red light.
Naved Baluch, 23, who arrived in Germany a year ago, was seized after witnesses saw him commit a traffic offence a mile away from the crime scene. Detectives who flew him out of Berlin and across the country to Karlsruhe to question him, took 18 hours to release Mr Baluch, who had no blood on his clothes and no injuries.
It was only then the security services warned the public that the real killer was on the run with a gun. “We declared victory too soon,” said one investigator.
British experts said the bungled police investigation highlighted fundamental flaws in Germany’s counter-terrorism strategy.
David Videcette, a former Scotland Yard counter terrorism officer who worked on the London 7/7 investigation, said Britain was better at preventing plots because there was better collaboration between the police and security services and they had learnt the lessons of the past.
He said: “After the 7/7 bomb attacks and particularly the 21/7 incident when Jean Charles de Menezes was shot, the UK took a very close look at the way everything operated.
“Prior to that, you had the Security Service on one side, the police on the other and Special Branch in the middle deciding what information was being passed between the two. After the attacks on London it was recognised that this relationship was not working and things were going wrong. Now the police and Security Service talk to one another and share information and that is one of the reasons we are successful in stopping plots.
“In Germany however, in common with other mainland European countries, they are a long way behind. There are numerous agencies operating in the same space and this creates problems. Information is not shared and things get missed.”
Germany’s strict privacy laws initially prevented pictures of Amri being published there, or even his surname. Instead media outlets in the country had to obscure his eyes in photographs and call him Anis A until the authorities decided to publish an unredacted wanted notice describing him as “highly dangerous”.
The German investigation has also been hampered by the lack of available CCTV footage.
State surveillance is a sensitive issue in Germany because of extensive snooping by the Stasi secret police in Communist East Germany and by the Gestapo in the Nazi era.
The result is that there are far less cameras in public places than in the UK.
However, on Wednesday a bill was passed to allow more video surveillance in German society with greater weight given to “the protection of life, health and freedom”.
As dramatic accounts of near-escapes by survivors of the attack continued to emerge, an Italian man said he “looked death in the face” and it was a “miracle” he and his wife survived.
Giuseppe La Grassa, 34, was on holiday celebrating his wedding anniversary and his birthday and described how close his wife Elisabetta came to being killed.
He said: “It is miracle my wife is alive. She was about to go and get a sandwich, but then she delayed a moment and was passed by a girl. The girl was killed, run down by the lorry.”
Mr La Grassa was hit by the back end of the lorry and needed 25 stitches in a facial wound.
Berliners remained defiant yesterday, with one Facebook post, summing up their mood, going viral.
It said: “This is Berlin. We are Berlin. We ride the S-Bahn in the rush hour. We complain when people are friendly to us. Our taxi drivers are more dangerous than any converts... and we love our children like crazy, even if they are lactose-intolerant. Whatever that is. We have nine months of winter and we go straight to work from partying. Some of us are Turks. Or Russians. Or Americans. Pakistanis too. Scared of you?! Dream on.”
( Source )