German minister confirms new suspect in focus in Berlin attack

German minister confirms new suspect in focus in Berlin attack

German minister confirms new suspect in focus in Berlin attack

AP photo

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere confirmed Dec. 21 that authorities have identified a new suspect in the deadly truck attack on a Christmas market in Berlin, one day after the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) claimed responsibility for the attack that killed 12 people.

“There is a new suspect we are searching for - he is a suspect but not necessarily the assailant,” de Maiziere told reporters, according to AFP.

He declined to immediately confirm numerous media reports that the suspect was a Tunisian asylum seeker with links to the Islamic extremist scene. 

Germany’s daily Allgemeine Zeitung and the Bild newspapers reported that German police were searching for a Tunisian man, aged either 21 or 23 and known by three different names, who was in connection with the deadly truck attack.

Both of the newspapers said asylum office papers believed to belong to the man were found in the cab of the truck.

The documents, which announced a stay of deportation, were found under the driver’s seat of the 40-tonne lorry that barreled through the Christmas market in the heart of the German capital.

ISIL on Dec. 20 claimed responsibility for the truck rampage.

“A soldier of the Islamic State carried out the Berlin operation in response to appeals to target citizens of coalition countries,” the ISIL-linked Amaq news agency said, without identifying the perpetrator.

The claim came shortly after German prosecutors, saying they lacked evidence, released a Pakistani asylum seeker who was the sole suspect in the case, sparking fears of a killer at large.

“We can’t rule out that the perpetrator is on the run,” de Maiziere told broadcaster ZDF on Dec. 20, adding he was confident there would be “progress” in the inquiry.

The Pakistani man was arrested late Dec. 19 after he was reportedly seen jumping out of the truck and fleeing the scene.

But officials had expressed growing doubts over whether they had the right suspect in custody.

Berlin’s police chief Klaus Kandt earlier warned that “we may have a dangerous criminal in the area,” and announced security would be boosted while urging “heightened vigilance.” 

As the search for the assailant was continuing, Germany decided to allow more video surveillance in public places, under a draft law passed by the cabinet on Dec. 21, reflecting growing security fears in a country that has for decades been wary of police intrusion. 

The bill was agreed in principle by the parties in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition last month, well before the deadly truck attack on the Christmas market in Berlin. 

Germany suffered two smaller attacks by Islamists over the summer, one on a train, the other at a music festival. Hundreds of sexual assaults last New Year’s Eve also increased concerns about security on German streets. 

State surveillance is a sensitive issue in Germany because of extensive snooping by the Stasi secret police in Communist East Germany and by the Gestapo in the Nazi era. 

The new legislation would loosen data-protection restrictions for video surveillance on the streets and in places such as shopping malls, sports venues and car parks. 

The cabinet also agreed on allowing federal police officers to wear bodycams, a step meant to increase security for officers after a rise in violence against them in recent months. 

Government officials have said the country, which accepted nearly 900,000 migrants last year, many refugees from war zones in the Middle East, lies in the “crosshairs of terrorism.”