The Hunt for the Berlin Truck Attacker: Whistling in the Dark
How can the German police be sure that the 24-year old Tunisian Anis Amri was in fact the perpetrator of the truck attack that murdered 12 people and injured 48 at the Berlin Christmas Market in Breitscheidplatz on Monday?
Although he was turned down on his application for asylum a year ago because of his terrorist associations, he was neither deported nor taken into custody. Wednesday, Germany offered a 100,000 euro reward for information leading to his capture.
So what would happen if Amri was turned in for the reward, and found to be the wrong man, like the Pakistani arrested right after the attack?
DEBKA Weekly’s counterterrorism sources find this scenario far from improbable for three reasons:
1. The German authorities desperately need to name a suspect after the embarrassing false arrest of the 23-yer old Pakistani, who was quickly picked up nearly 2 kilometers from the scene of the attack, in the hope of a lead for cracking the case. Posting the photo and description of Amri as “armed and dangerous” may prove to be just as fruitless.
2. The investigation hangs on the order of events leading up to the attack and the time frame of 15.00-16.000 hours Monday afternoon which remains a blank.
At 15:00 hours, the driver of the black Scania R 450 semi-trailer truck bearing Polish number plates reported to his company, Uslugi Transportowe Ariel Zurawsky, which is based in the northwestern Polish town of Sobiemysl near the German border that he had arrived late at his Berlin destination. He said he would wait there overnight and unload the truck the following morning.
A few minutes later, the company made its last contact with the driver.
From 16: 00, the driver’s family was unable to contact him. The company which owns the truck suspected it had been hijacked after checking its GPS coordinates.
In those critical minutes, the driver, realizing he was trapped, must have wrestled with his captors, was stabbed and then shot execution-style somewhere in Berlin. The attack and the hijacking went unnoticed and were unrecorded by any security cameras.
However, the course taken by the hijacked truck a few hours later to the targeted market was recorded by the GPS, which also registered its location in the hours between 15:00 and shortly before the attack at 21:00. How was the terrorist able to drive the truck, plough it into the crowd, then pull over, alight quietly and disappear in the dark, without any witness coming forward with his description, or a phone camera shooting a video that captured him?
The finding of documents identifying the Tunisian inside the truck, 24 hours after the attack, does not make much sense. If such papers were indeed left behind, it was no doubt for laying a false trail for the German security services. A slippery customer, he was described as disappearing from the radar after assuming six aliases and three different nationalities.
Anis was in fact on a watch list for suspected links with Islamist groups and ISIS, but surveillance was lifted after six months when he was accounted to be just a petty drug dealer, with form and jail time in Italy for arson and theft before he entered Germany.
3. By focusing on a single suspect, Germany security officials betray the fact that their investigation has run down for lack of data or leads. It is obvious that more than one individual was involved in setting up the truck terror plot. But even if they catch Amri, who could easily vanish across Europe’s open borders, he is unlikely to lead them to his accomplices. Their desperate hunt for the Tunisian who got away is therefore just whistling in the dark.