German police were following a Tunisian asylum seeker with ‘links to Islamic extremists’ amid fears he was involved in an earlier terrorist plot – but lost him before the Berlin Christmas market massacre, it has emerged.
Police today revealed they are hunting Anis Amri, 23, a refugee who came to Germany earlier this year. His paperwork was found in the footwell of a lorry used to murder 12 people on Monday night.
He is probably armed, ‘highly dangerous’ and a member of a ‘large’ Islamic organisation and has weapons training abroad, security sources say.
This afternoon it emerged that he had already been under investigation for planning a ‘serious act of violence against the state’ and counter-terrorism officials last exchanged information about him in November.
The suspect was also in contact with a ‘network of leading Islamist ideologists’.
This afternoon, police raided a migrant shelter in the town of Emmerich, western Germany, where he is believed to have lived.
Amri, who was born in the desert town of Tataouine in 1992 – a well-known ISIS stronghold close to the Libyan border – was apparently recently arrested for GBH but vanished before he could be charged.
In August 2016 he was arrested with a fake Italian passport and released but his phone was said to be monitored. He then disappeared in December, according to Die Welt.
A Facebook profile in his name shows ‘likes’ linked to Tunisian terror group Ansar al-Sharia, a Tunisian group with followers linked to extremists who murdered 22 at Tunis’ Bardo Museum in March 2015 and then 39 tourists at a beach resort in Sousse.
He was in contact with Islamist militants in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) and was known to German security agencies, the state’s Interior Minister Ralf Jaeger said.
The suspect had applied for asylum in Germany and his application was rejected in July. Attempts to deport him to Tunisia failed as he did not have identification papers, and Tunisian authorities disputed whether he was their national.
He had moved from NRW to Berlin in February 2016 and sought to make the German capital his new home, Jaeger said, adding that the suspect used different names.
Despite an unfolding international manhunt the first pictures of him released in Germany have his eyes deliberately covered, thought to be because of strict privacy laws there. MailOnline has uncovered unblurred images.
Police are believed to have found blood in the truck’s cab and now assume that the suspect may be badly injured.
Squads of officers have been to every hospital in Berlin and the surrounding state of Brandenburg. They also arrested another unnamed suspect in connection with the terror attack but have since ruled him out.
Amri was living in Berlin but a police operation is now underway in North Rhine-Westphalia – the industrial region of Germany containing Cologne, Dortmund and Bonn. His ID was issued on the town of Kleve close to the border with the Netherlands and Belgium.
The atrocity could be a political disaster for Mrs Merkel, who will seek a historic fourth term as chancellor next year. She has staked much of her political capital on opening Germany’s doors to refugees.
Amri is allegedly a disciple of Abu Walaa, arrested in Hildesheim last month for recruiting radicals into the ranks of Isis. Walaa has previously spoken at mosques in London.
He was arrested along with five members of a terrorist recruiting network operating on behalf of the so-called Islamic State, according to prosecutors.
The arrests took place in the states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Lower Saxony. The network is alleged recruited and provided logistical support for local volunteers making their way from Germany to Syria.
Iraqi citizen known Abu Walaa, 32, or Ahmad Abdelaziz as he is also known, is a leading figure of the movement in Germany, and many of his followers have made their way to Syria.
Walaa has been at the centre of a year-long investigation, which also yielded arrests in the city of Hildesheim in July 2016. The arrest appears to have been aided by a former IS fighter, Anil O, 22, who identified Walaa as Germany’s ISIS leader.
Amri’s home town in north Africa is famous for being the inspiration for Luke Skywalker’s home planet in Star Wars but has become an ISIS stronghold for jihadis attacking targets in nearby Libya.
It came as it was revealed the Pakistani asylum seeker held in the aftermath of the Berlin Christmas market massacre was held because he accidentally jumped a red light.
Naved Baluch, 23, who arrived in Germany a year ago, was seized and blamed for Monday night’s carnage after witnesses saw him commit a traffic offence a mile away.
Detectives, who flew him out of Berlin and across the country to Karlsruhe to question him, took 18 hours to realise Mr Baluch, who had no blood on his clothes and no injuries, did not drive a lorry through crowds to kill 12 and wound 48 more.
It was only then the security services warned the public that the real ISIS killer was on the run with a gun. Today Berlin is in mourning as police warned ‘vigilance’ is needed because a second attack could be imminent.
Despite bungling the initial investigation police insist DNA, GPS and mobile phone data tied to the lorry used to murder and maim could lead to an arrest today.
A BBC journalist made the red light claims on the Today programme this morning.
‘He was the wrong man,’ said a source in the German security services. ‘The true perpetrator is still armed, at large and can cause further damage.’
(Source: DAILY MAIL)