German police are looking for an asylum-seeker from Tunisia after finding an identity document under the driver’s seat of a truck that plowed into a Berlin Christmas market and killed 12 people, officials and security sources said on Wednesday.
Ralf Jaeger, interior minister of the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), said the man appeared to have arrived in Germany in July 2015 and his asylum application had been rejected, reports Reuters.
He seemed to have used different names and had been identified by security agencies as being in contact with an Islamist network. The man had mainly lived in Berlin since February, but was recently in NRW, Jaeger said.
The man had been considered a potential threat by security authorities since November. After being turned down for asylum, he should have been deported but could not be returned to Tunisia because his documents were missing, added Jaeger.
The new details added to a growing list of questions about whether security authorities missed opportunities to prevent the attack, in which a 25-tonne truck mowed down a crowd of shoppers and smashed through wooden huts selling gifts, mulled wine and sausages. It was the deadliest attack on German soil since 1980.
Christmas markets have been a known potential target for Islamist militants since at least 2000, when authorities thwarted a plot to attack one in Strasbourg, France. And the modus operandi in Berlin was identical to that of a Bastille Day attack in the French city of Nice in July, when a Tunisian-born man rammed a lorry through a seaside crowd and killed 86 people.
Security sources said the ID found by the Berlin investigators was in the name of Anis A., born in the southern Tunisian city of Tataouine in 1992. By convention, suspects in Germany are identified by the first name and initial.
A spokesperson for Tunisia’s foreign ministry said it was trying to verify that information.
German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said a Europe-wide manhunt for the suspect had been underway since midnight.
The Rheinische Post newspaper said police had begun searching a shelter for migrants in western Germany where the man was believed to have lived.