A Tunisian man wanted in connection with the deadly truck attack on a crowd at a Berlin Christmas market had been previously investigated over an earlier terror plot, a senior German official has said.
It emerged that Anis Amri had been under covert surveillance for months but German police called off the operation in September.
Ralf Jäger, the interior minister of North Rhine-Westphalia state, said an investigation had been launched against as Amri, who was due to be deported, earlier this year on suspicion of “preparing a serious crime endangering national safety”.
He moved around Germany and lived in several places, Mr Jäger said. Since February this year he lived mostly in Berlin, but he had been back in North Rhine-Westphalia recently.
The man is aged 21 or 23 and known by three different names, according to reports in the daily Allgemeine Zeitung and the Bild newspaper.
Both 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 barrelled through the Christmas market in the heart of the German capital.
Police were reportedly searching for the suspect, who was born in the southern Tunisian city of Tataouine, in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia.
Twelve people were killed in what German authorities have called a “terrorist attack” in Berlin late Monday, including the Polish driver of the truck. Twenty-four remained in hospital, 14 of whom were seriously injured.
The scenes instantly revived nightmarish memories of the July 14 truck assault in the French Riviera city of Nice, where 86 people were killed by a Tunisian Islamist.
The Isil-linked Amaq news agency said “a soldier of the Islamic State” carried out the Berlin carnage “in response to appeals to target citizens of coalition countries”.
There was no evidence to back the claim, nor was the perpetrator identified.
Tunisia is one of the biggest suppliers of jihadist fighters, with some 5,500 of its nationals believed to be involved in combat in Syria, Iraq and Libya.
German police on Wednesday stepped up their hunt for the driver of the truck.
An earlier suspect – a 23-year-old Pakistani asylum seeker – was released late Tuesday for lack of evidence, prompting fears of a killer on the loose and further rattling nerves in a shocked country.