BERLIN • The German authorities have triggered a Europe-wide manhunt for a rejected asylum seeker suspected of involvement in a deadly truck assault on a Berlin Christmas market claimed by ISIS.
Prosecutors have issued a wanted notice for 24-year-old Anis Amri, offering a €100,000 (S$151,500) reward for information leading to his arrest and warning that he "could be violent and armed".
Media reports said German police yesterday arrested four people who had been in contact with Amri, although a spokesman for the chief federal prosecutor denied the reports.
A temporary residence permit believed to belong to Amri was found in the cabin of the 40-tonne truck that rammed through a packed Christmas market in Berlin on Monday, killing 11. The 12th victim, the hijacked truck's Polish driver, was found shot in the cabin.
Police have searched a refugee centre in Emmerich, western Germany, where Amri stayed a few months ago, and two apartments in Berlin.
In a sign of defiance, Berlin yesterday reopened the Christmas market at the central Breitscheid square, but dimmed the lights and toned down the Christmas music.
As the manhunt intensified, questions surfaced about how the suspect, whose fingerprints were found in the cabin of the truck, had been able to avoid arrest and deportation despite being on the radar of several security agencies.
He arrived in Germany in July last year, but his application for asylum was rejected in June this year. His deportation, however, got caught up in red tape with Tunisia, which long denied he was a citizen.
German officials said they had already been investigating Amri. The Interior Minister of North Rhine- Westphalia state, Mr Ralf Jaeger, said counter-terrorism officials had exchanged information about Amri, most recently last month, and an investigation had been launched on suspicion that he was preparing "a serious act of violence against the state".
Berlin prosecutors said separately that Amri had been suspected of planning a burglary to raise cash to buy automatic weapons, "possibly to carry out an attack".
But after keeping watch on him from March until September this year, they failed to find evidence of the plot, learning only that Amri was a small-time drug dealer, and the surveillance was stopped.
The New York Times reported, citing US officials, that Amri had done online research on how to make explosive devices and had communicated with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria at least once, via Telegram Messenger. He was also on a United States no-fly list. "The authorities had him in their crosshairs, and he still managed to vanish," Der Spiegel weekly said on its website.
The top-selling daily Bild's front- page headline screamed "Deportation failure!", while local tabloid B.Z. said starkly, "They knew him. They did nothing", next to a photo of the heavy-set, dark-haired Amri.
Conservative lawmaker Stephan Mayer, a critic of Chancellor Angela Merkel's liberal stance on asylum, said the case "held up a magnifying glass" to the failings of her immigration policy.
But Mr Armin Laschet, a deputy leader of Dr Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, placed the blame on the regional security authorities, calling their failure to keep tabs on Amri "shocking".
Among the confirmed dead were six Germans, an Israeli and an Italian. A total of 48 people were injured.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS