Dutch bicker over Berlin attacker’s escape through Netherlands

‘No doubt’ that Anis Amri passed through Nijmegen train station, says prosecutor

 Escape route: Nijmegen railway station  this week.  Photograph: Piroschka van de Wouw/AFP/Getty Images

Escape route: Nijmegen railway station this week. Photograph: Piroschka van de Wouw/AFP/Getty Images


Opposition politicians are calling for the return of the Dutch parliament from its three-week recess following confirmation that the jihadist who rammed a lorry into a packed Berlin Christmas market, killing 12 holidaymakers, escaped from Germany through the Netherlands.

After several days of speculation, the Dutch public prosecutor has said he has “no doubt” that a man seen on closed-circuit TV at Nijmegen railway station, in the southeast of the country, is Anis Amri, the 24-year-old Tunisian shot dead by police in Milan on December 23rd.

After the shooting, Italian police found branded mobile-phone Sim cards in Amri’s backpack, which were later traced to a pre-Christmas promotion running from December 20th to 22nd at just three Dutch stations, including Nijmegen.

It has also emerged that in the aftermath of the Berlin attack, once they realised they had given the killer an 18-hour head start by arresting the wrong man, police immediately searched a refugee centre in the rural German town Emmerich am Rhein, just across the border from Nijmegen.

Emmerich is where Amri – who was under surveillance by the German intelligence services and was arrested three times during 2016 – is believed to have lived when he first arrived in Germany and made an application for asylum that was subsequently rejected.

Border crossings

If Amri did travel the 600-plus kilometres from Berlin to Emmerich or some point nearby during his first day on the run, then this was probably the closest German police came to capturing their prime suspect before he crossed the border into the Netherlands.

The belief now is that having reached Nijmegen, Amri travelled on to Sloterdijk, three kilometres from the centre of Amsterdam, where he boarded a bus to Lyon in France and then took a train to Milan.

However, it is the fact that Amri was able to evade capture for three days, crossing several international borders to get from Germany to Italy, that has again raised issues about those countries’ ability to protect their populations.

As regards the Netherlands, it was reminiscent, said Kees Verhoeven, of the centre-left D66 party, of the fact that one of the Brussels suicide bombers, Ibrahim El Bakraoui, had been able to pass unhindered through Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport in July 2015 despite a warning from the Turkish authorities.

Mr Verhoeven said he wanted parliament recalled so that he could ask justice minister Ard van der Steur: “How is this possible again?”

Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders agreed, warning that “our borders are apparently as leaky as a sieve” and demanding a debate with prime minister Mark Rutte.

The Christian Democrats’ spokeswoman Madeleine van Toorenburg, added: “These reports are really quite a shock. We need to know: was he in our sights?”