Nephew of Berlin market attack suspect and two others arrested in Tunisia
Arrests follow release of Islamic State video purportedly showing Anis Amri vowing to take revenge for Muslims killed in Western air strikes
The nephew of the prime suspect in the Berlin Christmas market attack and two others suspected of being part of a connected terrorist cell have been arrested in Tunisia.
Authorities in the country said the three suspects, aged between 18 and 27, were held on Friday and were members of a “terrorist cell... connected to the terrorist Anis Amri”.
Amri had sent money to his nephew and encouraged him to pledge allegiance to the Islamic State extremist group, according to Tunisia’s interior ministry.
“One of the members of the cell is the son of the sister of the terrorist (Amri) and during the investigation he admitted that he was in contact with his uncle through (the messaging service) Telegram,” the ministry statement said.
The development follows the release of a video by Islamic State’s semi-official Amaq agency purportedly showing Anis Amri vowing to take revenge for Muslims killed in Western air strikes.
Twelve people died when a truck allegedly driven by Amri ploughed into a Christmas market in Berlin on Monday evening. Fifty-three others were injured.
In the video, an Arabic-speaking man pledges allegiance to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and calls on Muslims in Europe to carry out attacks.
“My message to the crusaders: we’ve come to slaughter you, pigs. The blood of monotheists (Muslims) will not go to waste,” he says. Amaq gives the speaker the nom de guerre Abu Bara al-Tunisia, meaning he is a Tunisian native, like Amri.
The video’s release came shortly after Amri was killed in a shoot-out in the northern outskirts of Milan. Police had stopped him during a routine patrol at around 3am on Friday in Sesto San Giovanni.
When an officer asked for his documents, Amri pulled out a gun and shot him. He was killed when another officer fired back, Italian Interior Minister Marco Minniti said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel thanked the Italian authorities for shooting Amri.
“We feel the solidarity of our friends around the world, and they should know how much we also mourn for their victims,” Merkel said at a press conference. An Italian and an Israeli national have been confirmed as among the dead.
Merkel, whom critics blame for creating a security threat by keeping German borders open for refugees, said the attack raised questions about German law enforcement and that her government would investigate to what extent political and legal changes needed to be made in the wake of the attack.
Now that Amri is dead, the probe turns to whether the failed asylum seeker – who had been under investigation by German authorities as a potential terrorist – had accomplices or a support network, Germany’s top prosecutor Peter Frank said.
Holger Muench, the head of Germany’s federal criminal police, linked Amri to radical Islamist preacher Abu Walaa, but did not provide details on how the two are connected.
Abu Walaa is the suspected head of a group that recruited for and provided financial and logistical support to extremist Islamic State in Germany. He was arrested in Germany in November.
Italian authorities identified Amri by matching his fingerprints to those found on the truck, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said.
German investigators are also trying to determine whether the gun in his possession in Milan was the same weapon used to kill the Polish driver of the hijacked truck, and how Amri had managed to evade police for four days and escape unnoticed to Italy.
Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper reported that police officers found a ticket for a train from Chambery, in south-eastern France, arriving in Milan at 1am – just two hours before he was shot dead.
Italy’s ANSA news agency reported that Amri had travel tickets that indicated he had passed through France’s Chambery before heading to Turin in the Italian region of Piedmont.
French Interior Minister Bruno Le Roux refused to confirm whether Amri had travelled to Italy via France, calling for “great caution” against jumping to conclusions in that regard.
Meanwhile in Italy, Rome Mayor Virginia Raggi banned heavy goods vehicles from the city centre during the Christmas period as part of stepped-up security measures.
Amri reportedly spent several years in Italy before entering Germany in July 2015.
German authorities said they had initiated deportation proceedings but Tunisia failed to issue the relevant documents in time.
Merkel said that she spoke to Tunisian President Beji Caid Essibsi on Friday about speeding up the deportation of failed asylum seekers.
Andreas Geisel, Berlin’s senator of the interior, told a parliamentary committee on Friday that several victims of the attack were still in life-threatening condition.
The search for the attacker this week has raised questions about the German police operation.
German authorities reportedly said before the shoot-out in Milan that they believed Amri was injured and still in Berlin. Raids have been held in locations across Germany over the course of the week, including a refugee home.
The Moroccan government sent official warnings to German intelligence on September 19 and October 11 that Amri wanted to carry out a terrorist attack in the country, a security official told dpa.
US President-elect Donald Trump took to Twitter in reaction to the comments made in the video release.
The terrorist who killed so many people in Germany said just before crime, "by God's will we will slaughter you pigs, I swear, we will......
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 23, 2016
slaughter you. This is a purely religious threat, which turned into reality. Such hatred! When will the U.S., and all countries, fight back?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 23, 2016
“The terrorist who killed so many people in Germany said just before crime, ‘by God’s will we will slaughter you pigs, I swear, we will … slaughter you,’” Trump wrote.
“This is a purely religious threat, which turned into reality. Such hatred! When will the U.S., and all countries, fight back?” he added.