Tuesday 17 September 2019

'Police heard suspect offering suicide attack'

Candles and flowers have been placed at the scene of the Berlin Christmas market attack which left 12 people dead. Photo: Reuters/AP
Candles and flowers have been placed at the scene of the Berlin Christmas market attack which left 12 people dead. Photo: Reuters/AP

Justin Huggler

Anis Amri, the suspect in the Berlin terrorist attack, was overheard by German intelligence offering to carry out a "suicide attack" several months ago, it was claimed yesterday.

But no order was given to arrest Amri and investigators wrote him off as an "errand boy".

A surveillance team monitoring a well-known extremist preacher intercepted a call from Amri in which he made the offer, according to the highly respected 'Spiegel' magazine.

It was claimed last night that Amri had been seen entering a Berlin mosque that had been under police surveillance in the hours after the attack.

An image of the suspect leaving the mosque was released by regional broadcaster RBB. The mosque, which was searched earlier in the day, had reportedly been shut down by authorities.

Police also raided apartments and mosque complexes yesterday in a manhunt for the 24-year-old Tunisian, who is believed to be armed and dangerous.

Police say fingerprints found in the truck match those of suspect Anis Amri. Photo: PA
Police say fingerprints found in the truck match those of suspect Anis Amri. Photo: PA

Prosecutors also said they had found Amri's fingerprints on the lorry which ploughed into a Christmas market in Berlin on Monday night, killing 12 people and injuring 49.

"We believe that Anis Amri was steering the truck," Frauke Kohler, a spokesman for the federal prosecutors, said.

"We can tell you today that there are additional indications that this suspect is with high probability the actual perpetrator," Thomas de Maizière, the German interior minister, added.

The day began with pre-dawn raids in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia, where Amri made a failed application for asylum and had spent much of his time in Germany. Police stormed flats and houses in several locations, blowing the door off one apartment, but they were unable to locate Amri.

'Spiegel', which often publishes details leaked from inside official investigations, claimed that police knew Amri wanted to carry out an attack, but that he was never taken seriously as a threat.


The claims were supported by a report in 'Focus', a rival publication, that a regular informant warned police Amri was planning an attack as long ago as July, but that he was allowed to slip away.

Both sets of claims centre on the immediate circle of Abu Walaa, an Iraqi known as "the faceless preacher". The cleric, whose real name is Ahmad Abdulaziz Abdullah A, was arrested in November on charges of recruiting volunteers to fight for Isil.

According to the reports, Amri was in contact with Abu Walaa and a number of others in his immediate circle. It was his proximity to this group that first put him on the radar of anti-terrorism police, according to 'Spiegel'.

When prosecutors were preparing their case against Abu Walaa's group in North Rhine-Westphalia, a surveillance team picked up a call in which Amri offered to carry out a "suicide attack".

Around the same time, a regular informant separately warned police that Amri was openly talking about an attack in Germany, according to 'Focus'. But it appears neither warning was taken seriously enough.

No order was given to arrest Amri. He was not on the list of targets in the federal prosecutors' case against Abu Walaa.

According to 'Spiegel', prosecutors wrote him off as an "errand boy".

But they did pass his file to police in Berlin, where Amri was by then living. Police in the capital believed he was planning a robbery to buy weapons for a terrorist attack, and put him under surveillance. But no evidence of a planned attack was found, and the operation was called off.

There was one more opportunity to stop Amri, when he was stopped near Lake Constance on the Swiss border for carrying a false Italian passport.

The local authorities detained him, but the refugee office where he had made his rejected asylum application ordered his release.

Amri could not be deported as he didn't have the right identity papers, and Tunisia was disputing that he was its national.

After the Berlin surveillance was dropped, Amri seems to have disappeared. The next police knew of him was when a forensics team investigating the lorry that ploughed into the Berlin market found his identity papers under the driver's seat.


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