Friday 23 August 2019

'We will slaughter you like pigs' last message from Berlin killer

The Berlin attacker was killed by police in Italy but the threat of Isil violence still looms over Christmas, writes Maeve Sheehan

The killer's truck after it ploughed through a Christmas market on December 19, 2016 in Berlin
The killer's truck after it ploughed through a Christmas market on December 19, 2016 in Berlin
Police patrols at the reopened Christmas market near the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin. Photo: Clemens Bilan/Getty
Candles and flowers have been placed at the scene of the Berlin Christmas market attack which left 12 people dead. Photo: Reuters/AP

EARLY on Friday morning, two Italian policemen on a routine patrol noticed a man acting "very suspiciously" as he walked through the darkened streets of Milan.

They had no idea who he was or just how dangerous, when they approached him to ask for his identification papers.

The man drew a gun from his backpack and shot police office Cristian Movio through the shoulder. His colleague, Luca Scata, swiftly opened fire on the gunman and killed him. The unexpected shoot-out took place shortly before 3am outside the city's Sesto San Giovanni train station.

Only when the police went through the dead man's papers did they discover that he was "without a shadow of a doubt" Anis Amri, a 24-year-old Tunisian and the most wanted man in Europe, the latest purveyor of murderous terrorism waged in the name of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant at the Christmas Market massacre that claimed 12 lives and injured 56 in Berlin last Monday.

The Italians had no idea that the prime suspect for that massacre was in their country, nor had they any advance intelligence.

"They had no perception that it could be him otherwise they would have been much more cautious," the police chief Antonio De Iesu later told a news conference.

Italian police and forensics experts stand by the body of suspected Berlin truck attacker Anis Amri after he was shot dead in Milan
Italian police and forensics experts stand by the body of suspected Berlin truck attacker Anis Amri after he was shot dead in Milan

The police officers have become heroes in their homeland. "I told him that I hope he gets better soon," said the Interior Minister Marco Minniti who had earlier spoken to Movio on the phone. "The boy is very motivated. He's an extraordinary person. I thank him for the professionalism that he demonstrated, for the professionalism that he, alongside his colleague, had demonstrated."

It was a year of horrific atrocities - among them the Brussels attack in March and a truck driven into a crowd in Nice during the Bastille Day celebrations - and the year draws to a close with Isil casting its dark shadow over Christmas. The threat of further massacres is all too real.

As Amri made his way through Italy in the early hours of Friday morning, police in Melbourne launched a series of raids on a group of young men they suspected of plotting a series of spectacular Christmas Day assaults in Australia's second largest city.

According to reports, the group allegedly planned to target a railway station, a downtown district full of bars and restaurants and St Paul's Cathedral.

Five men were arrested, all of them aged between 21 and 26, and three appeared in court on Friday afternoon. Four were reported to be born in Australia and a fifth was Egyptian born but lived in Australia.

The death of Anis Amri has ended the international hunt for the armed and dangerous fugitive suspected of shooting dead a Polish lorry driver and steering his truck into the crowds at one of the world's biggest Christmas markets.

In the immediate aftermath of the horrific massacre, questions centred on how a Tunisian refugee managed to commit such atrocities while apparently on a terrorist watch list.

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Since he was shot dead in Italy on Friday, those questions extend to how he managed to flee Germany and cross the border into Italy in the aftermath of the massacre, despite the massive manhunt launched by police.

In Berlin, Germany's federal prosecutor, Peter Frank, told reporters that police were now trying to out whether Amri had accomplices.

"We are in close contact with the Italian authorities. We are interested to learn whether the weapon Amri carried in Milan was the weapon used in the attack in Berlin. We are investigating with high intensity," according to a BBC report of his comments.

"We want to investigate how he managed to get to Milan and whether he had any assistance or accomplices. We will look at what contacts he made in the preparation of the attack - people who may have supported him with money and aided him in the escape."

As it happened, the German authorities knew enough about Anis Amri to know that he was a potentially serious risk to society.

He was born in Tunisia in 1992. His parents still live in Oueslatia in central Tunisia, as do some of his siblings, all of whom were shocked to hear of his involvement in terrorism.

His brother, Abdelkader Amri, told reporters: "When I saw the picture of my brother in the media, I couldn't believe my eyes. I'm in shock, and can't believe it's him who committed this crime... But if he's guilty, he deserves every condemnation. We reject terrorism and terrorists - we have no dealings with terrorists."

His sister, Najoua Amri, said: "He never made us feel there was anything wrong. We were in touch through Facebook and he was always smiling and cheerful. I was the first to see his picture and it came as a total shock. I can't believe my brother could do such a thing."

Amri is believed to have left Tunisia after the Arab Spring of 2011. He ended up living in Italy, where he was reportedly sentenced to a four-year prison term for starting a fire in a refugee centre.

When he was released in 2015 he made his way to Germany. His asylum application was turned down, presumably because the security authorities there already knew of his links to radical Islamic elements.

However, according to reports in Germany, the authorities couldn't deport him because his papers weren't valid, and the Tunisians initially denied he was their citizen. The correct papers that would have allowed his deportation reportedly arrived from Tunisia last week.

During his time in Germany, he was an elusive character who moved around frequently, living between Westphalia and Berlin. He reportedly first crossed the authorities' radar because of his links to a radical Iraqi preacher called Abu Walaa, and other Islamic fundamentalists operating out of Germany.

According to media reports in Germany, Amri slid under the radar in July, after police tried to question him about drugs. The reports quoted security sources who claimed that the German authorities had been made aware of his attempts to buy a pistol earlier this year but apparently there was not enough evidence to arrest him.

Amri surfaced in Berlin last Monday evening, with devastating consequences. He hijacked a truck, and is believed to have shot its Polish driver, Lukasz Urban, who was on his way to make a delivery.

Shortly after 8pm, Amri steered the truck off the road and into crowds at the market in Breitscheidplatz. At least 12 people died, including Urban, whose body was found in the passenger seat.

Amri became the prime suspect after his documents were found in the lorry's cab. His identity card reportedly gave his home town as Tataouine, in Tunisia's southern desert, and his registered address as an asylum shelter in North Rhine-Westphalia.

Germany's interior minister, Thomas de Maiziere, later disclosed that the Tunisian's fingerprints were also found in the cab.

German police launched a massive manhunt and the authorities announced a reward of €100,000. Police burst into apartments where Amri had stayed, launched dawn raids in Berlin and North Rhine-Westphalia and shut down a Mosque he had allegedly attended just hours after the attack. However, Amri evaded capture.

How he came to be wandering on foot near the Piazza I Maggio beside the Seto San Giovanni train station in Milan - and more importantly, the accomplices who are believed to have brought him there - are questions now at the forefront of police investigations on both sides of the border.

The ticket stubs found in his belongings suggest that after the attack, some time on Tuesday, he made his way from Berlin to Chambery in eastern France. He took a train from Chambery to Turin, and from there took another train to Milan.

Amri's death there in the early hours of Friday morning brought to an end fears that he could commit further atrocities.

However, a video released by Isil hours after he was shot dead raised the chilling prospect of further bloodshed.

The video purports to show Amri swearing allegiance to Isil and calling on Muslims in Europe to strike at "crusaders": "God willing, we will slaughter you like pigs."

Sunday Independent

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