The international manhunt for the prime suspect in Berlin’s deadly truck attack raised questions and public ire on Thursday, with many wondering how Anis Amri was able to avoid arrest and deportation despite being on the radar of German security agencies.
“The authorities had him in their crosshairs and he still managed to vanish,” German news magazine “Der Spiegel” said on its website.
German officials revealed on Wednesday that they had already been investigating the 24-year-old Tunisian months before Monday’s rampage. Authorities even held him in a detention cell for a day and kept him under covert surveillance for six months before halting the operation.
“He was even in deportation detention, but had to be released after a day,” Stephan Mayer, the interior affairs spokesman for Germany’s conservative union in the Bundestag, told German RBB-Inforadio on Thursday. He added that the case shows where the deficits lie in Germany’s asylum policies and called for the duration of deportation detention to be extended.
ID papers believed to belong to Amri were found under the driver’s seat of a 40-ton truck that rammed through a crowded Christmas market in Berlin on Monday, killing 12 and wounding 48. Out of those injured, 14 remain in life-threatening condition.
The attack, Germany’s deadliest in recent years, was claimed by the militant “Islamic State” (IS) group. Amri reportedly communicated with IS at least once, researched how to build explosive devices online and was on a US no-fly list, “The New York Times” reported late on Wednesday, citing an unnamed US official.
Raids and arrests
Early on Thursday morning, police raided a refugee shelter in Emmerich where the suspect reportedly lived prior to moving to Berlin, authorities confirmed. Around 100 officials, including special units, were involved in the hour-long operation in the western German town.
Four people who allegedly had contact with Amri were arrested in the nearby city of Dortmund, Germany’s chief federal prosecutor confirmed to the German daily “Bild.”
A “Bild” reporter on scene tweeted a photo of German special forces and police storming into a house, adding that investigators began searching an apartment after the arrests.
German prosecutors have issued a Europe-wide wanted notice for Amri, offering a 100,000 euro ($104,000) reward for information leading to his arrest. They have warned that the Tunisian could be armed and dangerous.
False lead wasted time
Many in Germany are also wondering how Amri was able to slip away from the crime scene on Monday – with some levying criticism at the police.
The German newspaper “Süddeutsche Zeitung” criticized authorities for wasting time for initially focusing on a Pakistani suspect after the assault, in what turned out to be a false lead.
It emerged on Wednesday that the rejected Tunisian asylum-seeker is believed to have ties to the radical Islamist scene in Germany and used six different names and three different nationalities. He also evaded deportation despite his asylum application being rejected due to red tape with Tunisia, which long denied he was a citizen. He received a Yemeni passport on Wednesday, the same day police across Europe began searching for him.
“People are rightly outraged and anxious that such a person can walk around here, keep changing his identity and the legal system can’t cope with them,” said Rainer Wendt, who heads the German police union.
Merkel under fire
The apparent security failings triggered renewed criticism of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s liberal refugee policy, which saw nearly 1 million people arrive in 2015.
The record arrivals of people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa stoked the popularity of the anti-migrant, nationalist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party which has accused Merkel of putting the country at risk.
Tragically, the number of “refugees welcome” Germans outnumbered the Germans protesting the death of Germany: