ROME (AP) — Italian police said Friday they have arrested a Congolese man suspected being part of a Berlin-based terror cell and of having had contacts with the man who drove a truck into a Christmas market in the city, authorities said Friday.
Police said Lutumba Nkanga, 27, a resident of Germany, was arrested in early January at a refugee center in Brindisi, southern Italy. Authorities announced the arrest on Friday to allow time for international aspects of the investigation, Italian media reported.
Nkanga is suspected of having been in contact with the driver in the Berlin attack, Anis Amri, who was slain in a shootout with Italian police near Milan a few days after the December attack that killed 12 people.
Police said Nkanga was arrested in Brindisi on a warrant accusing him of belonging to an association with the aim of international terrorism.
Brindisi Police Chief Maurizio Masciopinto told Sky TG24 TV that investigators were able to trace internet communications by Nkanga and others allegedly linked to a Berlin-based terror cell, said to number about 11 members, despite members' sophisticated efforts to cover their traces.
As part of the probe, a Moroccan man was expelled from Italy, in line with a strategy to rid the country of those suspected of advocating Islamic extremism. Investigators said that the Moroccan and Nkanga had been spotted by police in the Adriatic port of Ancona in late December. Police suspected they were planning to travel to Syria to fight along with Islamic State group sympathizers, possibly by taking a ferry to Albania or by traveling to Turkey.
Expulsion is a now common tactic, reflecting Italy's determination to spare the country from terror attacks. Since the first such expulsion in January 2015, 170 foreigners suspected of advocating or planning religious extremist attacks, have been put on flights abroad.
Among them were a Tunisian man, 32, and an Egyptian man, 27, who were expelled on Friday for "reasons of social dangerousness," the Italian interior ministry said.
The Tunisian, who had been living in Sicily with an expired work permit, used his Facebook profile to publish content justifying Islamic violence and had contacts with extremists, authorities said.
The Egyptian, who worked in a fresh produce store, allegedly had expressed support for the Berlin market attack and expressed hope similar massacres would be carried out, the ministry said.