Investigators seek supply network for slain Berlin attacker

AP News
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Posted: Dec 24, 2016 2:41 PM
Investigators seek supply network for slain Berlin attacker

MILAN (AP) — Investigators on Saturday worked to determine if the Berlin Christmas market attacker got any logistical support to cross at least two European borders and evade capture for days before being killed in a police shootout in a Milan suburb.

Tunisian fugitive Anis Amri's fingerprints and wallet were found in a truck that plowed into a Christmas market in Berlin on Monday night, killing 12 people and injuring 56 others. Despite an intense, Europe-wide manhunt, Amri fled across Germany, into France and then into Italy, traveling at least part of the way by train, before being shot early Friday in a routine police stop outside a deserted train station.

The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the Berlin attack, but so far little is known about any support network backing up the 24-year-old fugitive.

Italian investigators were working to see if the Tunisian had any connections in the Milan area. Italy was his port of entry into Europe in 2011 and he spent more than three years in Italian jails on Sicily. But an anti-terrorism official said there was no evidence that he had ever been in or around Milan before Friday's shootout.

In Tunisia, the Interior Ministry announced the arrest Friday of Amri's nephew and two others suspected of belonging to the same extremist network.

The ministry said in a statement that Amri, through an alias, had sent his 18-year-old nephew Fedi some money through the post office to join him in Europe and join the Abou Walaa network. Amir claimed to be the network's emir.

The ministry said the nephew told them he was in contact with Amri via Telegram's encrypted communications to avoid detection. He said Amri had recruited him to jihad and asked him to pledge allegiance to IS, which he did and sent it to Amri via Telegram.

The Tunisian prosecutor's office ordered all three held in pre-trial detention pending further investigation.

In Spain, police were investigating whether Amri was in contact with a possible extremist there, on a tip from German authorities.

"We are studying all possible connections (between Amri) and our country, above all with one specific person," Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido told Spanish radio.

Italy has found itself at the center of the Berlin attack investigation after the dramatic shootout early Friday that ended the manhunt. The deserted train station and the late hour prompted Italian officers to check the North African man's identity, officials said. Instead of pulling out an identity card, Amri produced a loaded .22 caliber gun, shooting a senior officer in the shoulder before a rookie officer killed him with a single shot.

Amri had arrived in the southern island of Lampedusa illegally in 2011, claiming to be a minor, and quickly landed in jail after setting fire to a migrant center. After he was freed, efforts to deport him failed for bureaucratic reasons.

He reached Germany, where authorities were concerned enough to put him under covert surveillance for six months earlier this year, ending the operation in September. His request for asylum was refused by Germany in the summer, but the paperwork from Tunisia needed to deport him was delayed for months.

Investigators are looking into why Amri returned to Italy this week as he sought to elude police and whether he had any jihadi contacts in the country.

Authorities were also investigating the apparent coincidence that the truck from a Polish shipping company used in the Berlin attack had been loaded with machinery in the neighboring Milan suburb of Cinisello Balsamo three days before the attack.

Milan Police Chief Antonio de Iesu acknowledged the connection was "suggestive."

But he told reporters there was no evidence yet of a link, emphasizing that the Polish truck driver who was the terrorist's first victim had spoken to his wife by phone from Berlin hours before the attack and did not appear to be under duress.

On Saturday, Italy welcomed home one of the 12 victims, 31-year-old Fabrizia Di Lorenzo. She had been working in Berlin and was out shopping for Christmas presents to bring to relatives in central Italy when the truck careened into the market.

A casket containing her body arrived at Rome's Ciampino airport, met by Italian President Sergio Mattarella. Her parents and brother received hugs and condolences before the casket was placed in a vehicle for the ride home.

The husband of a Czech woman killed in the Berlin attack, meanwhile, said he was relieved that Amri no longer posed a threat to the people of Europe.

Petr Cizmar said he was not after revenge "but I needed to know that he was removed from our society one way or another and could not cause further harm."

He spoke Saturday by phone from the family's home in Braunschweig, 230 kilometers (143 miles) west of Berlin.

Cizmar says his 34-year-old wife Nada had a logistics job in Berlin since May and stayed there during the week. He says she went to the market to celebrate Christmas with her colleagues.

The couple has a five-year-old son.

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Bouazza ben Bouazza in Tunis, Tunisia, and Katerina Santurova in Prague contributed to this report.