German police launch Europe-wide manhunt for Christmas market attacker
German police on Wednesday launched a Europe-wide manhunt for a Tunisian man they believe may have carried out the terror attack Monday on a Christmas market in Berlin that left 12 dead and scores injured. The man is said to have links to a radical preacher who has been called the Islamic State group’s “number one in Germany.”
The man, yet to be officially named by police, was identified in multiple German media outlets as Anis A. Police reportedly identified the suspect from documents found under the driver’s seat of the truck that plowed into the market. AP reported the suspect has used six different aliases and is considered armed and dangerous.
The Latest: Wanted notice for Tunisian suspect in the truck attack says he's armed, has used 6 different aliases. https://t.co/fsKX10hYUg
— The Associated Press (@AP) December 21, 2016
Police in Germany are coordinating with law enforcement agencies across the continent after an arrest warrant was issued at midnight local time. However, the manhunt is initially focused in the North Rhine-Westphalia region, on the Dutch-German border, where the suspect was registered and in particular on the town of Emmerich, where he lived. About 150 police officers are thought to be taking part in the search.
Thomas de Maizière, Germany’s interior minister, said: “It is important that we find this suspect, and that’s why it is important to carry out an undercover search. We are gathering the data and all the evidence,” he said.
The 24-year-old Tunisian is known to police as a “dangerous person,” according to German newspaper Bild, and is thought to be part of a large Islamic network. He also has links to Abu Walaa, an Islamic cleric known as the “faceless preacher,” who was arrested in Germany last month for encouraging people to travel to Syria to fight with IS.
Several German outlets reporting suspect had ties to Salafist network around "faceless preacher" Ahmad Abdulaziz Abdullah A, aka "Abu Walaa"
— Philip Oltermann (@philipoltermann) December 21, 2016
According to the identity documents found in the truck, the suspect was born in Tataouine, Tunisia, in 1992 and traveled to Italy in 2012 before arriving in July 2015 in Germany, where he applied for asylum. He was given a temporary residence permit – the document recovered by police — however, in June 2016 his application for asylum was rejected, but he was not deported from the country.
According to Ralf Jäger, the interior minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, Anis A had been living in Berlin since February, but because Tunisia initially denied he was a citizen, he could not immediately be made to leave. The documents confirming his identity only arrived in Germany on Wednesday.
The police believe the suspect was injured in the attack and are scouring German hospitals to find him.
After the attack Monday, police initially arrested a man near the scene but released him on Tuesday, saying he had no link to the attack. IS has claimed responsibility for the attack but has provided no evidence to back it up.
— Michael S. Smith II (@MichaelSSmithII) December 21, 2016
Alexander Ritzmann, chairman of the European Commission’s Radicalisation Awareness Network, told the BBC that leaving identity documents in the truck “would fit into the pattern of terrorist organizations to leave behind documents. They are not supposed to hide the identities of the attackers or hide the organization that commits the attack.”
Cover: Sipa USA via AP