Suspect In Berlin Christmas Market Attack Killed By Italian Police

Dec 23, 2016
Originally published on December 23, 2016 11:00 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Let's work through what's known about the man accused of attacking a Christmas market in Berlin. This is a good moment to remember the story is fresh. So as always, our understanding of the facts may change. But authorities in Italy are being pretty definite about saying they believe the suspect was killed during an encounter with police. We're going to hear from Berlin and from Rome in the next few minutes, starting with NPR's Sylvia Poggioli who's in Italy.

And Sylvia, what do authorities say happened today?

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: Well, the Italian minister of the interior just had a press conference in which he said that at 3 a.m. in a Milan suburb, a two-man police patrol stopped a man they said they felt was acting suspiciously. As soon as he was asked to show his ID papers, he pulled out a gun and fired at one of the officers in the shoulder. The other patrolman opened fire and killed the suspect. Minister of the Interior Minniti said, without a shadow of a doubt, after they had done certain controls, they say it is Anis Amri, the Berlin suspect.

Now, we're learning from Italian media quoting police sources what those controls were. They say that the gun he - this man - the suspect used in Berlin is the same one that killed the Polish truck driver in Berlin, that he was identified through fingerprints and a computer scan of photographs of his face, the same that the German authorities had.

INSKEEP: And that has all been learned in the last few hours, with that much definitiveness?

POGGIOLI: Yes, that's what they're saying, yes.

INSKEEP: OK. And let's try to figure out what he would be doing in Italy. Did he have a connection to Italy before?

POGGIOLI: OK. He was also found with a French railway ticket. He had left from a station in the Savoie region. He had arrived at the Milan Central station then, apparently, took a subway to this Milan suburb of Sesto San Giovanni and was waiting, perhaps, for a train, a car - nobody knows where he was going. There's been a lot of speculation. Could he he been going - could he've been planning to travel to the Balkans, to somewhere else, to - everybody had thought he'd be in northern Europe. Perhaps, now, he was thinking of going somewhere to southern Italy. It's not clear.

I have to say that that whole area, this - the Milan hinterland is an area where there is a very large Muslim population. And Italian authorities say, also a very much - a large Tunisian and a very radicalized group, a number of people. So it is possible he had some kind of network of protection in the area or somewhere else in Italy and that's where he was going.

INSKEEP: OK. And his name is Amris Amri (ph), and he'd actually come in through Italy originally. Right?

POGGIOLI: He had come through in 2011 at the outset of the Arab Spring, which started in his native Tunisia. He was - and he arrived on, like thousands of others, on boats on the island of Lampedusa. I was there at that period. I remember the boats. You could see them just coming day by day, and there were more Tunisians on the island than residents at one point, there were so many. He said he was a minor, and that helped him to be able to remain on the island. But then after a while, he got involved in setting fire to a migrant center. He was arrested, and he spent four years in jail.

INSKEEP: OK. All right. So I'm going to stop you there, Sylvia Poggioli. Thanks very much for that. I want to bring another voice into the conversation briefly, and that is NPR's Joanna Kakissis. She is in Berlin.

Joanna, how are people responding where you are?

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: You know, the news is still very fresh here in Germany. But, you know, Interior Ministry officials here are very - they're very defensive. They're, like, being questioned a lot - why did you let this guy wander around with a criminal record in Italy, you know, set for deportation? And he had been spotted in an ISIS-affiliated mosque late last year. So there are concerns by regular Germans as to why he was even in Germany in the first place. And at the moment, German politicians are being a bit defensive. But they are being cautious as well because they've said, well, it's the Italians who identified him, not us.

INSKEEP: Meaning that they are not affirming that they believe this is definitely, definitely the suspect here?

KAKISSIS: Well, there is news that the Italian prime minister has contacted Chancellor Merkel. But there are press conferences and various news conferences around Germany - or around Berlin going on right now in which the confirmation will likely take place. But initially - initially, they were not confirming it.

INSKEEP: In a few seconds, how tense is Berlin?

KAKISSIS: Very tense and concerned that this would happen at all.

INSKEEP: OK. Joanna, thanks very much. Really appreciate it.

KAKISSIS: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Joanna Kakissis. She is in Berlin. We also heard from NPR's Sylvia Poggioli who is in Rome. And to recap, what we are learning this morning, Italian authorities say they found, at a routine stop, a man they believe to be the suspect in the Berlin Christmas market bombing. He opened fire on police - that's what authorities say - and police fired back and killed him. We'll bring you more as we learn. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.