After it became clear that the main suspect of driving the lorry that killed 11 people Monday in a Christmas market in Berlin was a 24-year-old Tunisian with a criminal record as a jihadist, Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her hopes that the alleged perpetrator, currently at large, is brought to justice as soon as possible.
Federal prosecutors have issued a Europe-wide warrant for the arrest of Anis Amri, offering a 100,000-euro ($104,000) reward for information leading to his capture and warning he could be armed and dangerous.
Just as Merkel praised the country for not succumbing to fear in the wake of the attack, she insisted that authorities would manage to track down the alleged assailant. I am certain we will meet this test we are facing, Merkel said. She added that in the past few days I have been very proud of how calmly most people reacted to the situation. Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said the case against Amri was hardening, with his fingerprints found in the cab of the 40-tonne truck, as well as his temporary residence permit.
The articulated lorry rammed through the crowd late Monday, killing 11. The twelfth victim, the hijacked truck's Polish driver, was found shot in the cab. The attack, Germany's deadliest in recent years, has been claimed by the Islamic State group. Among the confirmed dead were six Germans, 60-year-old Israeli Dalia Elyakim, and a young Italian woman called Fabrizia Di Lorenzo. A total of 48 people were injured.
It is yet to be determined how the suspect managed 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's news website. The top-selling daily Bild's frontpage headline screamed Deportation Failure! while local tabloid B.Z. charged They knew him. They did nothing, next to a photo of the dark-haired Amri.
Conservative lawmaker Stephan Mayer, a critic of Merkel's liberal stance on refugees, 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 inability to keep tabs on Amri shocking.
Merkel herself said Germany had known for a long time that we are in the crosshairs of Islamic terrorism. And yet, when it happens ... it is a totally different situation. She hailed the highly professional work of federal and state police as well as the smooth cooperation with international partner organisations. But in a revelation likely to stoke public anger, 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. Since the attack, police have searched a refugee centre in Emmerich, western Germany, where Amri stayed a few months ago, as well as two apartments in the capital.
According to The New York Times, 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. Der Spiegel reported that German government wiretapping against hate preachers had indicated that Amri had offered to carry out a suicide operation but that his statements were too vague for prosecutors to use. Amri's family expressed disbelief on hearing he was wanted.
Amri left his home country after the 2011 revolution and lived in Italy, where he served four years in prison for setting fire to a school, local media reported. 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.
Germany had until now been spared the devastating jihadist carnage that has struck neighbouring France and Belgium, but has suffered smaller attacks, including two assaults in July that left 20 people injured. Both were committed by asylum seekers and claimed by IS.
The Berlin 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.