Merkel tells Abbas, two-state solution only alternative

The two-state scenario of Palestinians living alongside Israel remains the “only sensible alternative,” Chancellor Angela Merkel has told Mahmoud Abbas in Berlin. The Palestinian president is also due to visit Brussels.

Berlin Abbas bei Merkel (Reuters/P. Kopczynski)

Merkel indirectly warned Israel on Friday that its expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank would lead to “erosion of the two-state solution,” that would also put Israel’s future at risk.

“I still do not see a reasonable alternative to the goal of a two-state solution,” Merkel said in an apparent reference to US President Donald Trump’s suggestion last month that a Palestinian state alongside Israel was not the only solution.

Abbas, speaking alongside Merkel at a Berlin press conference, thanked Germany for what he termed German political and material support provided to improve Palestinian institutional structures.

Israel’s ambassador to Germany, Yakov Hadas-Handelsmann, told Germany’s “Nordwest-Zeitung” newspaper on Friday that Israel was not against the two-state solution but insisted that Palestinians return to the negotiating table, without pre-conditions.

Renewed peace efforts?

Peace efforts lead by the former Obama’s administration’s secretary of state John Kerry collapsed in 2014. One of Trump’s top advisers, Jason Greenblatt, visited Israel and the Palestinian territories last week for talks on both sides as Trump issued an invitation to Abbas.

Israel has continued to build settlements in the occupied West Bank – seized by Israel in a 1967 war – and where Palestinians want to establish their state.

Statistics on settlements

On Wednesday, Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics published figures, showing that ground was broken on 2,630 housing units last year compared with 1,884 in 2015.

That figures excluded East Jerusalem, also occupied in 1967 and later annexed.

Some three million Palestinians live in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Israeli settlers amount to some 200,000 in east Jerusalem and 400,000 in the West Bank.

Call to find successor

On Thursday evening, while addressing Germany’s conservative Konrad Adenauer Foundation, Abbas asked rhetorically whether Israel wanted “only one state.”

“On 60 percent of our territory we cannot move freely,” Abbas said. “We can’t even move a stone or plant a tree on these grounds.”

Deutschland Palästinenserpräsident Mahmud Abbas in Berlin (picture-alliance/dpa/S. Stache)Can’t even move a stone, says Abbas

Roderich Kiesewetter of Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) urged Abbas, who next Sunday will turn 82, to find a successor.

Otherwise a dangerous vacuum could result, said Kiesewetter, who is a leading conservative in the German parliament’s foreign affairs committee.

Controversial report removed

Before meeting Abbas on Friday, Merkel warned Palestinians that if they wanted peace it was wrong to condemn Israel within international bodies.

Earlier this week, UN chief Antonio Guterres had ordered the removal from a UN website of a report that had accused Israel of establishing an “apartheid regime” that dominated Palestinians.

UN undersecretary Rima Khalaf resigned last Friday after resisting Guterres’ request to remove the document, which had drawn US condemnation.

Guterres’ spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, claimed it had been published without consultation with the UN secretariat.

Khalaf had headed the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), a Beirut-based UN body.

Guterres is due to travel to Jordan next week to attend an Arab summit and hold bilateral meetings expected to focus on the wars in Syria, Yemen, Libya and the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

ipj/kms (dpa, AFP, AP)

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Police raid Berlin homes linked to market attacker Anis Amri

Investigators have raided the homes of two suspected associates of Anis Amri, the man linked to last month’s deadly Christmas market attack in Berlin. Officials declined to confirm whether the men have been detained.

Berlin police stock photo (picture-alliance/dpa/B. Pedersen)

German police raided a refugee home and a flat in Berlin on Tuesday in connection with its investigation into Anis Amri, the man suspected of killing 12 people in a deadly attack on a Berlin Christmas market last month.

Investigators searched a refugee home, where a 26-year-old Tunisian man they believe knew Amri is living.

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Police suspect the man had known Amri since at least 2015 and was in contact with him shortly before the day of the attack on December 19. The federal prosecutor’s office said there is a “suspicion that the suspect knew of the attack plans and possibly helped Anis Amri.”

Investigators also raided the apartment of Amri’s former flatmate, who they also suspect was in contact with Amri and may have even been a possible accomplice in the attack.

The so-called “Islamic State” (IS) jihadist group has claimed responsibility for the attack, in which Amri plowed a truck through a Christmas market in Berlin’s Breitscheidplatz, killing 12 and injuring around 50 people. After a four-day long manhunt that stretched across Europe, Amri was shot dead by Italian police in Milan on December 23.

The prosecutor’s office said Tuesday’s searches focused on gleaning new information into Amri’s behavior before and after the attack.

It did not confirm whether the two suspects had been taken into custody, but said it plans to provide an update on the investigation on Wednesday.

Berlin police last week arrested a 40-year-old Tunisian man over alleged ties to the attacker, after authorities found his phone number stored in Amri’s mobile phone, which had been found at the scene of the attack. He was released the following day after authorities determined he was not a “possible contact person for Anis Amri.”

Amri identified as a threat in February

German media reported Tuesday that investigators had indentified Amri as a potential threat in February last year, but determined he was unlikely to carry out an attack.

Anis Amri (picture-alliance/dpa/Bundeskriminalamt)Amri was shot dead by Italian police in Milan on December 23

Citing security documents, daily newspaper “Süddeutsche Zeitung” reported that German authorities had received intelligence showing Amri had been in contact with IS members.

“Süddeutsche Zeitung,” along with German broadcasters NDR and WDR, also reported that the 24-year-old Tunisian migrant had sought to acquire weapons for an attack in Germany.

However, officials decided there was insufficient proof that Amri posed an acute threat that could be presented in court.

In the wake of the attack, German lawmakers have called for tougher security measures, including increased public surveillance and expanded powers for Germany’s internal security agency.

In her New Year’s address on Saturday, Chancellor Angela Merkel said radical Islam was “without a doubt the most difficult test” facing Germany.

dm/cmk (Reuters, dpa, AFP)

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Germany: Plans for security overhaul

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Suspected ‘IS’ scout for potential Berlin attack goes on trial

A Syrian teenager is accused of scoping potential landmark targets in the German capital on behalf of the so-called “Islamic State” (IS) jihadi group. Shaas Al-M. arrived in Germany during 2015’s migrant influx.

Deutschland Generalbundesanwaltschaft (picture-alliance/dpa/U. Deck)

The trial of a 19-year-old Syrian national began in a Berlin court Wednesday, marking the first hearing of its kind against a deployed IS militant rather than a “lone wolf” or radicalized assailant.

Shaas Al-M. arrived in Germany as a refugee in August 2015 during the peak of a mass influx of migrants fleeing Syria, Iraq and other crisis-torn countries.

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Federal prosecutors allege that the Syrian teenager fought with IS in his home country for two years before arriving in Germany. He stands accused of being deployed by the Islamist militant group to identify potential targets for a terrorist attack in Berlin, including the Brandenburg Gate and Reichstag building.

He has been in pre-trial detention since his arrest on March 22.

Charges include membership in a foreign terrorist organization – a charge, which carries up to 10 years in prison – and military weapons law violations.

Al M. will stand trial in a special state security court in Berlin, with the court having set 25 hearings through April.

Deployed by IS

In a statement issued by the court, Al M. is believed to have participated in a number of IS militia operations in Syria, handled a Kalashnikov machine gun and provided other militants with food and goods.

Since arriving in Germany, Al M. remained in “close contact” with IS militants and often traveled to the German capital to scope potential attack sites, according to federal prosecutors.

He allegedly “passed the information about the potential attack targets onto his contacts in IS,” the court said ina statement on its website.

The defendant also stands accused of arranging to “send at least one person to Syria as a fighter and offered his services as a contact person for potential attackers in Germany,” according to the court.

Watch video01:53

Germany’s homegrown terrorists

Germany on edge

Wednesday’s trial comes just two weeks after an IS-affiliated terrorist plowed a truck through a Christmas market in Berlin’s Breitscheidplatz, killing 12 and injuring around 50 people.

The attack marked the worst IS-claimed attack in Germany last year , although it was far from the only one. A spate of attacks in July saw a 17-year-old Afghan refugee wound five people in an axe attack on board a train in Würzberg. Days later a 27-year-old Syrian blew himself up outside a music festival in Ansbach, wounding 15 people.

Police also allegedly foiled two major attempted attacks, one in Düsseldorf in June and another on a Berlin airport in October.

Germany’s growing right-wing populist movement blame the attacks on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s “open door” refugee policy, which saw almost 900,000 asylum seekers enter the country in 2015. While some of the assailants were migrants and refugees, others were radicalized in Germany.

German internal security forces estimate that more than 9,000 radical extremists currently reside in the country, up from 3,800 in 2011. Around 550 of them are considered dangerous and capable of carrying out a violent attack.

Germany also suspects that a further 400 German jihadists are currently in Syria and Iraq, planning to carry out attacks upon returning home.

Editor’s note: Deutsche Welle follows the German press code, which stresses the importance of protecting the privacy of suspected criminals or victims and obliges us to refrain from revealing full names in such cases.

dm/kms (AFP, Berliner Strafgerichte)

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Europe on edge for Christmas after string of attacks in 2016

Security measures were heightened across Europe and beyond as Christians prepared to celebrate Christmas Eve in the shadow of terrorism. Germany’s capital, Berlin, was particularly on edge after last week’s truck attack.

Gedenken Gedächtniskirche Gottesdienst Berlin (picture-alliance/dpa/R.Freund)

Security was tight at many major European churches and cathedrals as worshippers gathered to celebrate Christmas Eve Mass on Saturday. In addition to heightened security across Germany, where last Monday’s attack in Berlin cast a long shadow over Christmas celebrations, other cities also beefed up security in a bid to ensure peaceful celebrations.

In France, 91,000 gendarmes and soldiers were deployed to guard public spaces including churches and markets. Italian police were also out in force, with concrete barricades erected around the historic Piazza del Duomo with Milan’s cathedral.

Nach Anschlag auf Berliner Weihnachtsmarkt Gedächtniskirche (picture-alliance/dpa/M.Kappeler)Worshippers congregating at Berlin’s Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church still feel raw after last week’s attack, which killed 12

Meanwhile, a spokesman for Berlin police said there would also be an increased presence of both uniformed and plainclothes  officers on the streets of the German capital over the Christmas holidays. Several hundred people attended Christmas Eve Mass at Berlin’s Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church – a mere stone’s throw away from the site of the Berlin Christmas market attack on December 19.

Tunisian asylum seeker Anis Amri reportedly drove a truck into the Christmas market that evening, resulting in 12 deaths and almost 50 wounded. The so-called “Islamic State” movement (IS) claimed responsibility for the attack, after Amri had pledged his allegiance to the head of the group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

With 12 candles representing the fatalities at the church altar, the Lutheran church’s presiding bishop, Ulrike Trautwein, called on the congregation to refuse to answer recent events with hatred: “We are feeling more strongly this time what Christmas means. In this place, in this location, we wish nothing more than: ‘Lord, give us your peace,'” she said.

Pope FrancisIn his Christmas Eve homily, Pope Francis said Christmas has been “taken hostage” by dazzling materialism

Religious leaders echo messages of hope

Other churches throughout Germany shared similar sentiments on Christmas Eve, as calls amassed to denounce terror and violence with messages of peace.

The chairman of the Council of Lutheran Churches in Germany (EKD), Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, said that Christmas provided an opportunity to counter the general sense of nervousness and petulance.

The German cardinal of the Catholic Church and chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference, Reinhard Marx, wrote that the “forces of evil” would only prevail if people allowed terrorism to paralyze their spirits.

Meanwhile, Aiman Mazyek, the head of the Central Council of Muslims, said that “we all, and religion in particular, represent reconciliation and are opposed to hate and violence.”

Deutschland - Aiman Mazyek, Vorsitzender Zentralrat Muslime (picture-alliance/NurPhoto/E. Contini)Aiman Mazyek, the head of Germany’s Central Council of Muslims, said that all people of faith should stand up against violence and hate

Rome on high alert

Pope Francis celebrated his fourth Christmas Eve Mass as pontiff at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican – also amid tightened security. Following the truck attack in Berlin and the Bastille Day lorry attack in Nice earlier this year, freight vehicle access to Rome was severely limited for the evening.

Military vehicles were also positioned at strategic points of access to the Vatican, and more than 1,000 police officers and 2,000 military personnel were reportedly deployed to the area to prevent any attempts at an attack in and around Rome. Visitors at St. Peter’s Basilica also underwent tight security checks before entering the basilica.

The Pope’s mass was broadcast around the world, with some of the prayers read in foreign languages – including Chinese, Arabic and Russian – as a sign representing the unifying nature of faith and the political themes of the present.

Geburtskirche Bethlehem (picture-alliance/dpa/M.Mohammed)Christmas services in Israel took place under the shadow of the controversial UN resolution on settlements

While the pontiff highlighted the plight of children suffering in the ongoing war in Syria, Aleppo’s Catholic minority gathered to celebrate its first Christmas Mass in five years at remains of the Old City’s Saint Elias Cathedral. In neighboring Iraq, Christians congregated at the fire-scarred Mar Shimoni church in Bartalla near Mosul for the first service since the town was retaken from the “Islamic State,” who had seized it in 2014.

On Christmas Day, Francis will deliver his “Urbi et Orbi” (To the City and The World) blessing to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics from the balcony of St Peter’s Basilica.

Happy Birthday, Jesus

Security was also tight across Israel, where Christmas coincides this year with Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights. The religious festivities come one day after a controversial UN resolution effectively banning Israel from expanding its settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Pilgrims gathered in Bethlehem for Christmas at the West Bank town’s Manger Square near the Church of the Nativity, where Christians believe Jesus was born. In the northern Israeli city of Nazareth, believed to be Jesus’ childhood home, more than 25,000 people took part in Christmas celebrations under heavy security precautions, police said.

Not a silent night

Despite these messages of hope and reconciliation, acts of violence and terror did not stop on Christmas Eve, as a blast ripped through a police car outside a Catholic church in the Philippines, wounding 13 people.

Symbolbild orthodoxem judentum (AFP/Getty Images)Christmas and Hannukah start on the same day this year, as worshippers across Israel and beyond prepare for several days of religious festivities

The explosion was aimed at churchgoers attending Christmas Eve masses at the Shrine of Santo Nino in the town of Midsayap.

Authorities did not immediately comment on who was responsible for the blast. No group has claimed responsibility. The Philippines’ government is involved in fighting several armed Muslim groups, particularly on the island of Mindanao, where the attack took place. Some of those groups have reportedly pledged allegiance to IS.

Meanwhile, a woman with dual French and Swiss nationality was reportedly kidnapped in Mali. There have been no claims of responsibility in that case; despite a peace agreement signed last year, regional jihadist groups affiliated with al-Qaeda continue with an insurgency campaign in the North African nation.

Watch video01:35

Christmas around the world

ss/kl (dpa, AP, AFP, KNA, epd)

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Police make arrests in Duisburg as search for Berlin attacker continues

After Monday’s fatal truck attack on a Berlin Christmas market, suspect Anis Amri remains elusive. Police said they have arrested two Kosovo-born brothers in western Germany suspected of planning an attack on a mall.

Deutschland CentrO Oberhausen, Einkaufszentrum (Imago/Hans Blossey)

Federal prosecutors said police squads had searched locations in Berlin and the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), looking for Amri, a 24-year-old Tunisian wanted for Monday’s truck rampage that killed 12 people at a Christmas market in the German capital.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said she hoped for a “prompt arrest,” adding that she was proud of the way a great many people in Germany had reacted to the attack.

The tabloid newspaper “Bild” reported Friday that three of the 12 people killed by the errant truck on Monday had not yet been identified.

The known dead were six German nationals, an Israeli, an Italian and the Polish driver, who on Monday had arrived in Berlin to deliver metal components.

Deutschland Anti-Terror-Einsatz im Centro Oberhausen (picture-alliance/dpa/A. Stoffel)Police in Oberhausen

Searching for the suspect

A tourist bus had also been searched at Heilbronn in the southern regional state of Baden-Württemberg, without arrests being made, prosecutors said.

Video footage from Monday published by various media outlets suggested that Amri disappeared after ramming the truck into the Berlin’s Breitscheidplatz market.

Berlin’s public broadcaster RBB said images showed him a few hours later at a mosque in Berlin’s district of Moabit, where the truck was hijacked and its Polish driver killed inside the cab.

The Breitscheidplatz market was re-opened Thursday, with concrete blocks placed to ward off traffic and protect pedestrians.

Watch video02:31

Family of Tunisian suspect looks for answers

Two arrests in Duisburg

Simultaneously Thursday night, police made two arrests near Duisburg in NRW after uniformed and plain-clothed officers scoured the giant Centro mall (pictured above) in Oberhausen.

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The Kosovo-born brothers, aged 28 and 31, were suspected of planning an attack at Centro, including its Christmas stalls, according to a police statement.

NRW was the region where Amri arrived as an asylum seeker in Germany in mid-2015, but authorities said they did not believe the attack on the Christmas market in Berlin and the planned Centro mall attack were directly related.

“We’re urgently investigating how far the preparations had got and whether more people were involved,” police said in the early hours of Friday.

Stun grenades

In Berlin, police special forces on Thursday stormed a venue used by Salafist radicals, which Amri had allegedly visited. Stun grenades were used and a door blown open, the “Berliner Zeitung” newspaper reported.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziére, speaking after his visit to the BKA federal police’s  Berlin office, said fingerprints in the truck’s cab and further evidence indicated “that this suspect is with high probability really the perpetrator.”

Documents pointing to Amri were found Tuesday inside the cab which had first been sealed by investigators after Monday’s attack.

Criticism of policing

Revelations since Monday that Amri had been on a federal list of persons regarded as potential threats and had been monitored in Berlin until September, has prompted further criticism of the efficacy of policing measures.

Christian Lindner, who leads the opposition pro-business liberal Free Democrats, said such people must be observed without pause, if necessary with electronic foot shackles.

Opposition Greens co-leader Cem Özdemir questioned Tunisia’s delay in providing Amri with travel documents after his German asylum bid was rejected in July.

“It cannot be true, that some countries are thankful for [European monetary] support but refuse to accept back criminals originating from their regions,” Özdemir said.

Watch video00:57

Berlin: Sense of resilience after attack

ipj/jm (dpa, Reuters, rbb)

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Berlin truck attacker Anis Amri killed in Milan

 

Media captionThe BBC’s Bethany Bell reports on what is known about the shooting.

The Berlin market attacker, Anis Amri, has been shot dead by police in Milan.

The Tunisian criminal fired on police who asked him for ID during a routine patrol in the Sesto San Giovanni area in the early hours of Friday.

German authorities say fingerprints they provided have confirmed the dead man is Amri. They are trying to find out if he had accomplices.

Monday’s attack on a Berlin Christmas market left 12 people dead and 49 injured.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was “relieved” that the attacker had been neutralised but added that Islamist terrorism was “a recurring threat to us”.

Her government’s main priority was to protect German citizens, she told journalists, adding that this case had raised “many questions”.

“Further changes to our laws and regulations will have to be made,” Mrs Merkel said at a news conference.

image grab taken from a propaganda video showing Anis AmriImage copyrightAFP
Image captionIS released a video showing Amri pledging allegiance

But leading Eurosceptics – including French National Front leader Marine Le Pen – have criticised open European borders, a result of the Schengen pact, for allowing a fugitive to move between countries.

Meanwhile, the self-styled Islamic State (IS) group has released a video showing Amri pledging allegiance to its leader, Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi.

He does not make any reference to the Berlin attack, which IS claimed soon afterwards. It is not clear when or where the video was filmed.

Shortly before releasing the video, IS acknowledged Amri’s death in Milan.

When Italian police stopped the suspect, who was on foot, at 03:00 (02:00 GMT), he “immediately drew out a gun” and shot at the two policemen, Italian Interior Minister Marco Minniti said.

Officer Cristian Movio was injured in the shoulder but his injuries are not life-threatening.

His junior colleague, Luca Scata, who had been in the police for just nine months, was the one who fired the shot which killed Amri.

German officials found Amri’s fingerprints inside the truck that was used in Monday evening’s attack.

Federal prosecutor Peter Frank said the focus of the criminal investigation into the killings now was to establish whether Amri had had a network of supporters who helped him to plan and carry out the attack or to flee.

Investigators are also trying to establish whether the gun used in the shooting in Milan is the same weapon used to kill the Polish driver of the truck, who was found dead with stab and gun wounds in the cab.

The attack took place at a busy Christmas market at the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in the west of the German capital.

Italian police cordon off an area after a shootout between police and a man in MilanImage copyrightAP
Image captionThe shootout took place in the Sesto San Giovanni area of Milan

According to the Italian news agency Ansa, Anis Amri travelled by train from France to Turin, and then took another train to Milan.

From the central station he travelled on to Sesto San Giovanni, a working-class area.

Graphic showing location of shootoutImage copyrightBBC/GOOGLE
Injured police officer Cristian Movio talks on the phone in hospital, bandages on his shoulderImage copyrightPOLIZIA DI STATO
Image captionPolice officer Cristian Movio was injured in the shoulder in the shootout

Amri, a Tunisian national aged 24, had served a prison sentence in Italy after being convicted of vandalism, threats and theft in 2011.

He was known to Italian authorities for his violent behaviour while imprisoned.

After his release he was asked to leave the country. He later arrived in Germany where he applied for asylum in April of this year.

His application was rejected by the German authorities but they were unable to deport him to Tunisia because he had no valid identification papers.

Chancellor Merkel has talked with the Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi about the case.

“I told my Tunisian counterpart that we need to speed up the deportation process,” she told reporters.

Anis Amri was named as a suspect in the Berlin attack by German federal prosecutors, and a reward of up to €100,000 (£84,000; $104,000) was offered for information leading to his arrest.

Candles and flowers are placed at Breitscheidplatz in remembrance of the victims of the 19 December terrorist attack in Berlin, Germany, 23 December 2016.Image copyrightEPA
Image captionMourning continues at Breitscheidplatz in central Berlin, where the attack took place
Lorry in daylight, at sceneImage copyrightAFP
Image captionThe lorry’s Polish driver, Lukasz Urban, was found dead in the passenger seat

The German authorities issued an alert for Amri on Wednesday after immigration documents identifying him were found in the cab of the lorry used in the deadly attack.

Amri’s family had urged him to give himself up, and on Friday his mother criticised Italian and German security officials for not sending him back to Tunisia, where the rest of the family still live, in an interview with German broadcaster Deutsche Welle.

A spokesman for Germany’s interior ministry would not comment on reports in the German media that Amri had been filmed at a mosque in Berlin in the hours after the attack.

Separately, police arrested two people in the German city of Oberhausen on suspicion of planning an attack on a shopping centre.

Mr Minitti praised the two police officers who had apprehended Amri, and said the operation showed how Italy’s security system was working well.

“As soon as this person entered our country, a fugitive wanted across Europe, we immediately identified him and neutralised him,” the minister said.

German Interior Minister Thomas Maiziere said the case again highlighted the importance of close European and transatlantic co-operation in combating terrorism.

The end of the manhunt was not the end of the investigation, he said, as the authorities were still seeking Amri’s “network of accomplices”.

Mr de Maiziere added: “The terrorist threat facing Germany has not changed, unfortunately it remains high.”

Can police protect Christmas crowds?

Map showing Anis Amri's movements

Germany hunts for attacker after IS claims truck rampage

Police have launched a manhunt for one or more perpetrators of the attack in Berlin after reportedly releasing a second suspect. Media reports say Tunisian identity papers were found in the truck used in Monday’s attack.

Deutschland Breitscheidplatz nach dem Anschlag in Berlin (DW/F. Hofmann)

German police on Wednesday intensified a manhunt for the driver of a truck that plowed into a Berlin Christmas market on Monday evening, in an attack claimed by the so-called “Islamic State” (IS).

Federal prosecutors late Tuesday released a 23-year-old Pakistani asylum-seeker, after finding insufficient evidence that he was involved in the attack. German broadcaster RBB reported on Wednesday that police had taken in a second person for questioning early on Wednesday morning but later released him. The broadcaster also said police were able to recover DNA evidence from inside the truck that is thought to belong to the attacker.

The Mainz daily “Allgemeine Zeitung” as well as public broadcaster Hessischer Rundfunk reported that personal documents were found in the truck and that police were searching for suspects in Berlin as well as the rest of Germany. News magazine “Der Spiegel” reported that the documents were for a Tunisian national.

Without naming sources, media reported the man was named either Ahmed or Anis A. and is thought to be using various aliases.

The daily “Süddeutsche Zeitung” and public broadcasters MDR and NR, reported that the suspect had received asylum in Germany in April 2016.

Authorities said one or more fugitives were likely armed and dangerous. “We may have a dangerous criminal in the area,” Berlin’s police chief Klaus Kandt said.

Berlin police urged people to be “particularly alert.”

President visits recovering victims

The attack on a Christmas market in central Berlin killed 12 people and wounded nearly 50, of whom 24 have been released from the hospital.

President Joachim Gauck on Wednesday morning visited victims of “the attack who were still being treated at the Charite hospital.

“We will not leave you alone in your suffering,” he said.

The Pakistani asylum-seeker was apprehended on Monday after witnesses reportedly saw him jumping out of the truck and fleeing the scene. He was released after denying any involvement during intensive questioning. The investigation into the man found there was no video footage of him in the cabin of the truck.

Andre Schulz, chairman of the Federation of German Detectives, told public broadcaster ZDF on Tuesday evening there was a good chance authorities would quickly capture a new suspect. “I am relatively confident that we will have a new suspect by morning or in the near future,” he said.

Watch video01:28

Berlin: A day after the attack

The Polish-registered truck appears to have been hijacked near Berlin. A Polish national believed to be the original driver was found shot dead in the passenger seat at the scene of the attack. Mass-market daily “Bild” reported Wednesday that the driver was still alive at the time of the attack. No weapon was found at the scene.

IS on Tuesday claimed responsibility for the attack on the group’s Amaq news agency. It said the unnamed attacker was “targeting citizens of the Crusader coalition,” a reference to the German military’s involvement in the international anti-IS coalition targeting the group in Syria and Iraq. However, there was no evidence to back up the claim. The terror outfit has been known to claim attacks it did not carry out and usually names its attackers.

German prosecutors confirmed Tuesday that investigators are treating the incident as an act of terrorism. Top German prosecutor Peter Frank said given the target and nature of the attack, the incident pointed towards an act motivated by Islamist extremism.

Watch video02:12

Berlin Muslims speak out against attack

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who visited the scene of the attack on Tuesday afternoon, also referred to the incident as a “terrorist act.”

A memorial service attended by all faiths was held on Tuesday evening at the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, near the site of the attack. Mourners laid flowers, lit candles and wrote messages.

Among those in attendance at the memorial were Merkel, President Joachim Gauck and Berlin Mayor Michael Müller.

Berlin’s mayor said citizens would not let the attack sow divisions in the multicultural city. “We will not let cosmopolitan Berlin be taken by such a cowardly attack, by fear and terror,” Müller said.

The terrorist attack, one of biggest to hit Germany in more than a decade, comes after Germany has taken in more than 1 million refugees over the past two years, raising questions by some over the country’s ability to integrate such a large number of newcomers. The influx has sparked security concerns and forced the government to heighten security measures ahead of federal elections in 2017, in which Merkel’s immigration policies are expected to be a central issue.

Speaking before the prosecutors admitted they had captured the wrong man, Merkel acknowledged that the crime might have been committed by an asylum-seeker.

Watch video01:56

Merkel: ‘I am horrified, shocked and deeply saddened’

“I know that it would be particularly hard for us all to bear if it were confirmed that a person committed this act who asked for protection and asylum in Germany,” she said in a nationally televised statement.

“This would be particularly sickening for the many, many Germans who work to help refugees every day and for the many people who really need our help and are making an effort to integrate in our country.”

German authorities have foiled several attacks recently and arrested dozens of alleged Islamists. In early October, a Syrian refugee was detained for allegedly planning to bomb a Berlin airport. The suspect, Jaber Albakr, later killed himself while in custody.

In July, a suspected 17-year-old Afghan refugee wielding an ax and knife wounded five people on a train in Bavaria before being shot dead by police. The attack was claimed by IS. Days later, a Syrian asylum- seeker claiming to act in the name of IS blew himself up at a festival in the southern city of Ansbach, wounding 15 people.

Around the same time, an 18-year-old German-Iranian gunman killed nine people at a shopping mall in Munich before committing suicide. Authorities said the young man, who had planned the attack for a year, was “obsessed” with mass murders and had no links to the IS group.

Earlier this month, a 12-year-old was arrested for allegedly assembling a homemade nail bomb he tried to explode at a Christmas market in the western city of Ludwigshafen.

cw/sms(AFP, dpa)

 

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