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Tunisian contact of Berlin attacker detained. Cellphone found in truck leads to arrest

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New details have emerged about the terror attack Anis Amri carried out this month at a Christmas market in Berlin. A cellphone found in the truck used in the attack has led police to a possible accomplice of Amri.
(Tobias Schwarz / AFP/Getty Images)

German authorities have detained a 40-year-old Tunisian man living in Berlin and suspected of being an accomplice of Anis Amri, a 24-year-old refugee from Tunisia who deliberately drove a hijacked tractor trailer truck into a Christmas market that killed 12 people in the country’s worst terror attack since the 1972 Munich Olympics.

The federal prosecutor in Karlsruhe, Peter Frank, said the Tunisian was detained and his apartment searched after his phone number and information about him were discovered in a cellphone found in the truck.  

“The investigations suggest that he may have been involved in the attack,” the prosecutor’s office said, adding that they would decide by Thursday whether there is evidence to raise criminal charges against the Tunisian man.

Authorities have worked through the holidays to try to track down any accomplices and learn how Amri managed to slip past police controls from Berlin to Milan despite the intense international manhunt. He was killed Dec. 23 in a shootout with police in Italy after a European-wide manhunt.

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New details about Amri’s high-speed attack Dec. 19 on the outdoor Christmas market near the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in the heart of Berlin also emerged.

German TV network ARD reported that Amri had taken a selfie of himself in the truck’s cabin shortly before the attack and sent it as well as text messages to someone, possibly the man detained Wednesday in Berlin.

“I’m in the vehicle now, pray for me my brother, pray for me,”  he wrote just 10 minutes before the attack, according to ARD TV. He then sent a selfie taken from the cabin of the truck, ARD said.

Amri drove at a speed of about 40 mph into the popular Christmas market packed with revelers celebrating the holiday season by drinking mulled wine, eating sausages and baked goods. The truck came to an abrupt halt after only about 80 yards and may have been stopped by an automatic braking system that prevented any further carnage, German officials told ARD.

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“The technology saved lives,” a German government official was quoted saying.

Investigators surprised that the truck stopped only about a quarter of the way into the market at first thought the Polish driver may have still been alive during the attack and tried to heroically seize control of the wheel before being shot in the head. But a report from the coroner indicated the Polish driver had been shot to death at least three hours before the 8 p.m. attack.

ARD and Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper reported that authorities have found indications that Amri, whose application for asylum in Germany had been rejected and who was on a terror watch list, had in the past searched the Internet for instructions on how to build pipe bombs and how to create explosive materials. They reported that he had tried to contact the Islamic State in February, offering to carry out a suicide bomb attack. Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack.

The attack has raised doubts about Chancellor Angela Merkel’s pro-refugee policies ahead of the September election in which she is seeking a fourth term. More than 1.1 million refugees have streamed into the country over the last 16 months, many fleeing war and turmoil in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and northern Africa.

Authorities in France and Italy have said they believed Amri took a train from Lyon, France to Chambery before crossing the border to Italy and reaching Milan. It is still unclear how he got to Lyon from Berlin.

But in the Netherlands, the state prosecutor’s office said on Wednesday it was investigating indications that Amri had passed through the country after the Berlin attack and on his way to Italy. French and German media have reported that authorities believe he may have traveled by bus from Berlin. That would have meant he crossed four international borders to get to Italy: Netherlands, Belgium, France and Italy.

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UPDATES:

1:35 p.m.: This article was updated with additional details and a report that Anis Amri sent a selfie from the truck used in the terror attack. 

This article was originally published at 5:35 a.m.


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