More than 48 hours after the attack on a Berlin Christmas market, one or more perpetrators are still at large. And since early evening on Wednesday, police have been conducting a manhunt for a man whose immigration document was found under the driver's seat of the semi-truck used to commit the attack outside the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in the German capital city. He is now considered the main suspect in the attack.
The document was issued to Anis Amri, born in Tunisia in December 1992. The Federal Office of Criminal Investigation is offering a reward of up to 100,000 euros for information leading to his arrest.
Amri reportedly entered Germany through the city of Freiburg in July 2015. He had been under observation by security officials for some time. An entry relating to an undercover investigation of the man on Feb. 5 states, "suspected ties with IS (Islamic State)" and "intensive monitoring of the subject." Earlier this year, the authorities classified the man as a "potential threat," a category used by police to describe people the authorities believe could strike at any time. The German Interior Ministry has stated that 549 people across the country are currently classified as potential threats. They are the subject of frequent monitoring.
The 'Imam without a Face'
"This person attracted the attention of various security officials in Germany because of his contacts with the radical Islamist scene," Ralf Jäger, the interior minister of the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia said in the afternoon. SPIEGEL has learned that Amri was apparently communicating with well-known hate preacher Ahmad Abdulaziz Abdullah A., aka "Abu Walaa." The 32-year-old is suspected of being the leader of a network that recruited members and supporters of the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group between January and July 2015.
Ralf Jäger, interior minister of North Rhine-WestphaliaFoto: Federico Gambarini/ dpa
"Abu Walaa" had been preaching for years in a mosque run by the Hildesheim German-language Islamic Circle (DIK). In late July, police in the northern state of Lower Saxony conducted a raid against the mosque congregation, and in November Abu Walaa, known as the "imam without a face" because he usually covers his face or is filmed from the back in his propagada videos, was arrested.
His network also included Duisburg Salafist Hasan C., who was allegedly in contact with the people who bombed a Sikh temple in the city of Essen in April. The Federal Prosecutor's Office has also been investigating C. for months. His travel agency in Duisburg's Hochemmerich neighborhood has a reputation as a contact point for jihadists.
Investigators have also learned that Amri frequented the Dortmund mosque of Boban S., who, according to federal prosecutors, is also part of the Abu Walaa network and has provided Islamists with ideological training.
A propaganda video from Salafist Abu WalaaFoto: islamistische Propagandawebsite
According to Jäger, security officials exchanged information about Amri through the German government's counter-terrorism center (GTAZ), most recently in November. The State Office of Criminal Investigation in North Rhine Westphalia initiated "proceedings with the Federal Public Prosecutor against Amri based on the suspicion he was preparing to commit a serious act of subversive violence."
The investigation was apparently conducted by the local chief prosecutor's office in Berlin, and all the information about the Tunisian available to authorities in North Rhine-Westphalia was passed on to the Berlin authorities. Amri apparently spent most of his time in Berlin beginning in February 2016 but, more recently, had also been in North Rhine-Westphalia "briefly."
"This person was quite obviously highly mobile," said Jäger.
Little League Drug Dealer?
The focus of the investigation in Berlin had been information indicating that Amri "was planning a break-in in order to obtain money to buy automatic weapons that could possibly be used by accomplices to be found later for an attack," the Public Prosecutor's Office in the capital informed a court. In response, the court provided its authorization for Amri's communications to be wiretapped and for general surveillance of the subject. The Berlin Public Prosecutor's Office said that surveillance measures had produced evidence that Amri "might be active as a little league drug dealer" in the city's Görlitzer Park, a hotbed of drug activity in the city. They said Amri was also believed to have gotten involved in a physical dispute in a bar "presumably based on a conflict within the dealer scene."
Still, the investigation yielded no evidence "verifying the original allegation or corroborating this or another state-security relevant criminal charge." This led prosecutors to end the surveillance measures against Amri in September. At that point in time, Amri was no longer believed to be in Berlin or to be in touch with his former contact person, the Public Prosecutor's Office in Berlin stated on Wednesday evening.
Deportation Failed Because of a Lack of Documents
The man's request for asylum was reportedly rejected in June 2016.
On July 30, police intercepted Amri during a check on a long-distance bus traveling in the city of Friedrichshafen. The police determined during the check that the Tunisian was subject to deportation. Following a ruling by the district court in Ravensburg, the man was moved to the local detention center pending his deportation. Two days later, however, the man was released and the deportation did not get carried out.
Officials were unable to complete the deportation because the Tunisian didn't have a passport and required passport replacement documents from the authorities in Tunisia before he could be repatriated, Jäger said. "Tunisian authorities provided these today (Wednesday)," the SPD politician stated, adding, "I do not want to comment any further on this circumstance." Before that, Tunis had long denied that the man was in fact Tunisian.
IS claimed responsibility for the attack long before the manhunt for Amri began. But the statement, released on the Internet, contained no information whatsoever about the attacker. This suggests that IS leadership did not coordinate the attack with Amri.