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International Manhunt Underway For Tunisian Suspect In Berlin Market Attack

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

In Germany, more details are emerging about a Tunisian man who's the subject of an international manhunt. German authorities are looking for him because he's been connected to the terrorist attack on a Christmas market in Berlin this week. The 24-year-old asylum-seeker was supposed to have been deported from Germany last summer.

Authorities had previously considered him a terror threat. We go now to NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson. She's been covering the attack in the aftermath for us. There have been police raids, I understand, in Berlin and in the northwestern part of Germany. What can you tell us about them?

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: They were happening early this morning Germany time. Apparently, a hundred police commandos forced their way into two Berlin apartments. And there were raids reported in Dortmund in North Rhine-Westphalia, where the suspect, Anis Amri, was known to have hung out, as well as a refugee home in another northwestern town, where he was supposed to be living. Police haven't commented about the raids.

MARTIN: So this is this man's name - Anis Amri. We know he's originally from Tunisia. What else can you tell us about him at this point?

NELSON: He first landed in Italy in 2011 and is reported to have spent four years in Italian prisons for setting fire to a migrant shelter during a riot. Then, he came to Germany in mid-2015. Here in Germany, he had six different aliases with three different nationalities. In fact, the temporary German residency card that police found in the cab of the tractor trailer used in the attacks had one of those aliases, but he was ultimately identified through DNA that he left behind in the tractor trailer.

Authorities had been on to him because they suspected him of planning a break in to finance a terror attack. And then he was under surveillance from March to September, but authorities couldn't really find him doing anything wrong other than dealing in low-level drugs, and so the monitoring stopped. And now he's being sought, as you mentioned. There's an international manhunt with a reward of roughly $104,000 being offered for information leading to his arrest.

MARTIN: So he had requested asylum in Germany. As we mentioned, that request was denied. And then he just kind of slipped through the cracks, right? How did that happen?

NELSON: Yeah, I mean, he was only held in a deportation center for two days because he didn't have any documents, and Tunisia refused to issue him a new passport. In fact, the Tunisian government was claiming he wasn't even one of their citizens. So German officials tell us that the Tunisians finally sent papers for Amri yesterday. But what happened in the meantime is, once he was released, he went into hiding. He disappeared.

MARTIN: So what does this mean for security around Germany? I mean, a suspected ISIS attacker on the loose - are you seeing a security presence that's bigger than usual?

NELSON: Well, that's certainly something that the authorities or that the government has promised, is a bigger police presence. I haven't really noticed it in the parts of Berlin that I've gone around, although I have seen these big concrete blocks that have been put up around Christmas markets. The German cabinet also passed measures for allowing increased video surveillance, which is a big deal here because there's a lot of sensitivity about that sort of thing because of the Nazi and East German Communist past here. You know, Germans do not like surveillance and that sort of thing the way we might accept it in the States.

MARTIN: And lastly, Soraya, Angela Merkel has staked a lot of her chancellorship on her positions on open immigration, open borders, allowing refugees in. She's standing for re-election. I imagine this is complicating those efforts for her.

NELSON: Yes, this is a real threat to her chances for re-election next fall. And even her allies are demanding that she quickly change Germany's asylum policy. They want asylum-seekers without documents not to be allowed to enter Germany unless they're properly vetted. And they do want those with deportation orders, of which there are, like, hundreds of thousands, to be rounded up and held at detention centers before they can be sent back to their countries.

MARTIN: NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Berlin. Thanks so much.

NELSON: You're welcome, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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