Germany releases suspect in Berlin Christmas market attack
Tunisian man was not the contact person of truck driver Anis Amri, say officials
Video screen-grab bearing the logo of Islamic State group-linked Amaq News Agency shows Berlin truck attacker Anis Amri pledging allegiance to IS. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images
German authorities have released a Tunisian man detained on suspicion of involvement in the truck attack on a Berlin Christmas market last week that killed 12 people, a spokeswoman for the federal prosecutor’s office said on Thursday.
“Further investigation has shown that the arrested person was not the possible contact person of Anis Amri and therefore he was released,” Frauke Koehler said, referring to the man believed to have hijacked the truck and ploughed it into crowds at a Christmas market in the capital last week.
Investigators found the mobile phone number of the released 40-year-old Tunisian stored in the phone of Amri.
The spokeswoman said that a gun Amri used in the truck had the same calibre as the one he fired at Italian police in Milan, where he was shot dead last week. More tests were needed to determine whether it was the same gun.
She added that the truck’s automatic breaking system stopped the vehicle 70 to 80m (164 yards) after it hit the market, avoiding more casualties.
Separately, Italian police have searched three houses in and around Rome, where Amri may have spent time, a judicial source said on Thursday. Amri first arrived in Europe by boat to the Italian island of Lampedusa in 2011, and was shot dead by police in Milan four days after the December 19th attack in Berlin.
The searches focused in the capital and nearby Aprilia, where he was thought to have stayed after leaving a detention centre in Sicily in 2015, the source said. Police are investigating whether he was seeking to stay in Italy or trying to reach another country.
On Thursday, during an end-year news conference, prime minister Paolo Gentiloni said Amri was probably radicalised after arriving in Europe in 2011, but added that the government had no evidence Amri had “particular networks” in Italy.
“Five years ago he was not a jihadist . . . In desperation, in isolation, in alienation, he found the conviction to follow the path of radicalisation,” Italy’s anti-terrorism chief Franco Roberti was also quoted as saying in an interview with la Repubblica newspaper on Thursday.
Roberti said lone-wolf attackers such as Amri needed the help of small-scale criminal networks, such as those in Italy and Spain, for logistical support including acquiring false documents. “From this point of view, Italy and Spain are the cradles,” Roberti said.
Amri’s undetected passage to Italy, via France, from Germany after the attack, has prompted Eurosceptic parties to call for the reintroduction of border controls that were removed by the continent’s open-border Schengen pact.
Italy tried to deport him to Tunisia after he completed a four-year jail term for attempting to set fire to a building, but Tunisian authorities refused to take him, so he was released from the centre.