Berlin, Dec 21: German police launched a manhunt today for a rejected asylum seeker suspected of involvement in a deadly truck assault on a Berlin Christmas market claimed by the Islamic State jihadist group. Officials said the suspect, 24-year-old Tunisian national Anis Amri, had already been under investigation for planning an attack, in a development certain to fuel public outrage.
Asylum office papers believed to belong to Amri, alleged to have links to the radical Islamist scene, were found in the cab of the 40-tonne lorry used in the attack that killed 12 people. Prosecutors released a wanted notice with two photos of the dark-haired, brown-eyed suspect and offering a reward of 100,000 euros (USD 104,000) for information leading to the arrest of Amri, who they warned "could be violent and armed". 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," Jaeger said. Amri came to 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.
The required documents only arrived today, two days after the Berlin attack, said Jaeger. Another conservative lawmaker, Stephan Meyer, acknowledged the suspect had been under police surveillance. "We are apparently talking about a potentially dangerous suspect who was known to authorities and belonged to the Salafist-Islamist scene," he told reporters. A previous suspect -- a 23-year-old Pakistani asylum seeker -- was released late yesterday for lack of evidence, prompting fears of a killer on the loose and further rattling nerves in a shocked country.
Twelve people were killed when the Polish-registered articulated truck, laden with steel beams, slammed into the crowded holiday market late Monday, smashing wooden stalls and crushing victims. Six of the dead have been identified as German while media reported one of the victims as an Italian woman. Twenty-four people remain in hospital, 14 of whom were seriously injured.
The scenes revived nightmarish memories of the July 14 truck assault in the French Riviera city of Nice, where 86 people were killed by a Tunisian Islamist. The IS-linked Amaq news agency said "a soldier of the Islamic State" carried out the Berlin carnage "in response to appeals to target citizens of coalition countries". There was no evidence to back the claim, nor did Amaq identify the perpetrator. Germany is part of a US-led coalition fighting IS in Iraq and Syria.
Tunisia is one of the biggest suppliers of jihadist fighters, with some 5,500 of its nationals believed to be involved in combat in Syria, Iraq and Libya.