The hunt for Europe’s most wanted man ended in a gun battle outside a Milan train station in the early hours of Friday but left authorities facing tough questions about how an armed suspected terrorist had been able to travel hundreds of miles on public transport before being caught.
Italy’s interior minister, Marco Minniti, said on Friday that the man shot in Milan was “without a shadow of a doubt” Anis Amri, who is suspected of carrying out Monday’s terrorist attack on a Berlin Christmas market. Fingerprints of the shot man matched those secured from within the cabin of the truck used to carry out the attack, German authorities confirmed.
Amri was stopped by two police officers in a routine check in the Sesto San Giovanni neighbourhood on the outskirts of the city and was asked for his documents, Minniti said. Amri initially told the officers he did not have documents and that he was from Calabria. When pressed further, Amri slipped his hand into his bag and retrieved a .22-calibre gun, shooting 36-year-old officer Christian Movio in the shoulder.A second officer, 29-year-old Luca Scatà, returned fire, shooting Amri in the chest. The Tunisian 24-year-old reportedly died of his wounds about 10 minutes later, in spite of attempts at resuscitation.
Movio remains in hospital with a wound to his shoulder that is not life-threatening. Minniti said he told the wounded officer “Italians will be able to have a happier holiday. All of Italy should be proud of him … It’s not simple to guarantee an adequate level of security faced with the threat of terrorism, but we are putting everything into it.”Angela Merkel, who was alerted to the news of Amri’s death by the Italian prime minister, Paolo Gentiloni, on Friday morning, thanked the Italian officers and said she had asked for an investigation into “each and every aspect of the case of Mr Amri”. Wherever there was a need for a political or legislative change, it would be done speedily, the German chancellor said.
The fact that a man whose terrorist leanings were known to German spy agencies had dropped off their radar before the attack and managed to evade police while travelling at least 1,000 miles around the continent in spite of a European arrest warrant raised difficult questions for security agencies and politicians across Europe.
Paris-based web portal Monde Afrique on Friday claimed the Moroccan intelligence agency had twice alerted German authorities to Amri’s “fervent” support for Islamic State and his contact with two of their representatives in advance of Monday’s attack, once on 19 September and again on 11 October.
A video posted on Friday by Isis’s Amaq news agency, in which Amri pledged his allegiance to Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and called for Isis supporters to take revenge against “crusaders” bombing Muslims, appeared to be shot with a mobile phone on the Kieler bridge in Berlin’s Moabit district, just over a mile from the German chancellery.The bridge is also located only a short distance from the ThyssenKrupp warehouse near where Polish truck driver Łukasz Urban on Monday parked the articulated lorry that was used to plough into the Breitscheidplatz Christmas market later that evening.
“It simply cannot be the case that someone like Amri was able to move around Germany freely even though he was suspected of planning a terrorist attack,” said Michael Ortmann, a terrorist expert for broadcaster RTL.
“Our intelligence agencies have fallen asleep at the wheel,” Ortmann told the Guardian, pointing to the fact that Germany had experienced a lack of terrorist activity for many decades since the decline of the Red Army Faction, also known as the Baader-Meinhof gang. Spy agencies were often understaffed and technologically behind the times, he said, making it difficult for regional police to share data.
How Amri managed to travel from Berlin in the north of the continent to Milan in the south remains unclear. German and Italian media reported that a French rail ticket was found in Amri’s backpack, suggesting that he had boarded a train in the city of Chambéry in the northern French Alps, near both the Swiss and Italian borders. From Chambéry, Amri appeared to have travelled by train for two and a half hours to the northern Italian city of Turin, before taking another train to Milan.
French media on Friday offered a different theory, reporting that Amri had travelled from Lyon to Chambéry by train, then a direct high-speed TGV to Milan.Travelling directly from Germany to France by train, Amri would have run a considerable risk of detection. After last year’s thwarted train attack in which a 27-year-old Moroccan jihadi opened fire on a Thalys train from Amsterdam to Paris, security on certain French and international train services has been stepped up, with passengers having to go through metal-detection scanners on some platforms. But not all train services or stations scan passengers before boarding.