Berlin Christmas market attack: The investigation so far

Italy's interior minister confirmed on Dec 23, 2016, that the man killed by Italian police in Milan was "without a shadow of a doubt" Anis Amri, the Berlin truck killer suspect.
Italy's interior minister confirmed on Dec 23, 2016, that the man killed by Italian police in Milan was "without a shadow of a doubt" Anis Amri, the Berlin truck killer suspect. PHOTO: REUTERS

BERLIN (AFP) - The prime suspect in the truck attack on a Berlin Christmas market that left 12 people dead was shot dead by Italian police Friday (Dec 23).

Here is what we know about the case to date.

German authorities launched a Europe-wide manhunt for 24-year-old Tunisian Anis Amri on Wednesday. Two days later the rejected asylum seeker was killed by Italian police in Milan.

Italy's interior minister Marco Minniti told reporters in Rome that Amri had been fatally shot after firing at police who had stopped him for a routine identity check around 3:00 am (10am Singapore time).

Identity checks had established "without a shadow of doubt" that the dead man was Amri, the minister said.

Amri had been missing since escaping after Monday's attack in central Berlin. He had links to Italy, having arrived in the country from his native Tunisia in 2011.

Amri's temporary residence permit for Germany and fingerprints were found in the cab of the truck he allegedly rammed into the packed Christmas market, authorities said.

In a development that stoked public anger, it emerged that German officials were already investigating Amri, suspecting he might be plotting an attack.

Prosecutors in Berlin believed he was planning a burglary to raise funds to buy weapons, possibly to carry out an attack.

However, after trailing him for six months, they had to let the case drop as there was not enough evidence against him - he was only a small-time drug dealer, they thought.

Amri left Tunisia after the 2011 revolution. He lived in Italy for years and reportedly served time there for setting fire to a school which had been converted into a refugee shelter.

He arrived in Germany in July 2015 and applied for asylum, which was rejected in June.

However, his deportation became bogged down in red tape as Tunisia denied he was a citizen.

The necessary papers for his deportation came through on Wednesday, two days after the attack.

Just an hour after the carnage, the police declared they had a chief suspect already in custody: a Pakistani asylum seeker arrested only two kilometres (one mile) away from the scene.

In the end, police released him 24 hours later, after failing to find any trace of his DNA in the lorry's cab.

"We declared victory too soon," said one investigator.

The mix-up gave Amri another 30 hours to flee, one of many glitches in the probe.

On Monday, Polish truck driver Lukasz Urban, 37, was heading to Berlin to deliver 24 tonnes of steel beams from Italy.

But the delivery was put off until the following day, so he went to park his Polish-registered lorry in an industrial zone in the northwest of the city, according to the daily Bild.

In the afternoon he spoke briefly to his wife and the couple agreed to talk again an hour later. But they never did.

According to his cousin and employer Ariel Zurawski, GPS data from the vehicle showed it had been driven, but only making small movements "as if someone was learning how to drive it".

The lorry left its parking space around 7:40 pm, driving the 10km or so to a busy area of west Berlin where the Christmas market was being held, and ploughing into the throng of revellers.

After 60-80 metres through the market the lorry swerved to the left, crashing through a stall before coming to a halt on the avenue running alongside the square. The change of course brought the carnage to an end.

Police found Urban, shot dead, in the passenger seat of the truck's cab. According to Zurawski, who was shown photos of the body, his cousin had a stab wound and "his face was bloodied and swollen", suggesting he struggled with the attacker.