Tunisian hunted by Germany seen earlier as a terror threat

BERLIN (AP) — Germany has launched a Europe-wide manhunt for an “armed and dangerous” Tunisian with ties to Islamic extremists in connection with the Berlin Christmas market attack, according to a European arrest warrant and German lawmakers.

A German security official said Wednesday that authorities had considered him a possible terror threat previously and had been trying to deport him after his asylum application was rejected this summer.

The man is being sought in Germany and across Europe’s border-free travel zone. A European arrest warrant from Germany obtained by The Associated Press states that the man should be considered armed and dangerous. It also indicates that he has at times used at least six different aliases and three different nationalities.

“This is a suspect, not necessarily the perpetrator,” Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said after briefing Parliament’s domestic affairs committee. “We are still investigating in all directions.”

Twelve people were killed and 48 injured when a truck plowed into a popular Berlin market Monday evening in an attack claimed by the Islamic State group.

Twelve of the wounded were still being treated Wednesday for very serious injuries and some were in critical condition, Berlin health officials said.

De Maiziere wouldn’t give details on the new suspect, but committee members said he’s believed to be Tunisian and had spent time in pre-deportation detention.

The man is in his early 20s and apparently has used various identities, said Stephan Mayer, a senior lawmaker with Germany’s governing conservatives. He said the man was considered part of the “Salafist-Islamist scene” by authorities.

Germany’s chief federal prosecutor told lawmakers that “this Tunisian is a solid lead, his wallet was found in the cab of the truck, but that it’s not clear that he was also the perpetrator,” said Burkhard Lischka of the Social Democrats, the junior governing party.

The new suspect apparently arrived in Germany in July 2015 and lived in three German regions since February, mostly in Berlin, said Ralf Jaeger, the interior minister of western North Rhine-Westphalia state.

Jaeger told reporters on Wednesday that state police had launched proceedings against the man on suspicion that he was preparing a serious crime. He said “security agencies exchanged information about this person in the joint counter-terrorism center, the last time in November.”

Separately, the man’s asylum application was rejected in July. German authorities prepared to deport him but weren’t able to do so because he didn’t have valid identity papers, Jaeger said. In August they started trying to get him a replacement passport.

“Tunisia at first denied that this person was its citizen, and the papers weren’t issued for a long time,” Jaeger said. “They arrived today.”

A Tunisian official said German investigators are trying to determine the role of the man, who he said was named Anis Amri. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity before Germans spoke more about the investigation, said Tunisian authorities were requesting more information on the German probe into the suspect.

A Tunisian living in France was shot to death after carrying out a similar attack on July 14 Bastille Day revelers in the southern French city of Nice, killing 86 people.

Police in Berlin said they had received over 500 tips on the Monday evening attack.

Shortly after the attack, police arrested a Pakistani man found a kilometer (1/2 mile) from the market who matched witness descriptions of the truck’s driver. However, they released him the next day, saying they did not have evidence tying him to the attack.

The claim of responsibility carried on the IS group’s Amaq news agency late Tuesday did not identify the man seen fleeing from the truck, but described him as “a soldier of the Islamic State” who “carried out the attack in response to calls for targeting citizens of the Crusader coalition.”

Germany’s top prosecutor, Peter Frank, told reporters before the IS claim that the attack was reminiscent of the Nice rampage and appeared to follow instructions published by IS. He also said it wasn’t clear whether there was one perpetrator or several.

Christmas shoppers were out again in the streets Wednesday in the German capital, and Berlin Mayor Michael Mueller said it was “good to see that Berliners aren’t being intimidated.”

“I don’t think there’s any need to be afraid,” he told ZDF television. “The police presence has been significantly heightened … and of course other measures taken to find the perpetrator quickly.”

Mueller argued that there are limits to increasing security, given the number of public spaces and events.

“It wouldn’t be our free and open life any more if we escalated security measures so much that people worry about going anywhere, that there are strict entry checks,” he said. “We don’t want that. It must be appropriate and goal-oriented.”

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.