BERLIN — The suspect in the Berlin Christmas market attack was shot dead Friday by an Italian police trainee after an identity check in Milan, ending an international manhunt but raising new fears as an Islamic State video purported to show the attacker calling for more bloodshed in Europe.
The 24-year-old Tunisian, Anis Amri, was killed following a dramatic encounter in the Piazza I Maggio in the Sesto San Giovanni area outside Milan, after a two-man patrol stopped him for questioning around 3:15 a.m. on suspicion of burglary.
One of the officers requested his identification. Amri responded by pretending to fish in his backpack for documents. Instead, he pulled a gun, shooting one officer in the shoulder.
Amri, who spoke Italian, then ducked behind a car, shouting “poliziotti bastardi” — police bastards. The second patrolmen — trainee Luca Scatà — fired back, killing Amri, according to Italian officials.
“He was the most-wanted man in Europe” said Italian Interior Minister Marco Minniti. “There is absolutely no doubt that the person killed is Anis Amri.”
In Germany, Federal Attorney General Peter Frank said fingerprints confirmed Amri was the man killed. But German and European authorities grappled with how Amri — who Italian authorities say traveled by train through France — managed to slip out of Berlin and make it all the way to Milan almost three days after he was named as the prime suspect.
Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday thanked Italian authorities, while adding “the Amri case raises a number of questions . . . We will now press ahead and look into in how far state measures need to be changed.”
Hours after the shootout, the Islamic State-linked news agency, Amaq, released a video the purports to show Amri swearing allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed caliph of the Islamic State.
Speaking in black-hooded windbreaker on Berlin bridge, only 1.5 miles from the German chancellery, he called on Muslims in Europe to rise up and strike at “crusaders.”
“God willing, we will slaughter you like pigs,” he said in the video, whose date and location was not given but looked like it was filmed in winter weather.
He added, “to my brothers everywhere, fight for the sake of Allah. Protect our religion. Everyone can do this in their own way. People who can fight should fight, even in Europe.”
The authenticity of the video could not be independently confirmed, but previous material released by Amaq has been credible.
Earlier, a statement carried on Amaq described Amri as inspired by the Islamic State.
In Oueslatia, Amri’s bleak home town in Tunisia, news of his death had reached his mother, five sisters and three brothers, who until the end held hopes that the German authorities were after the wrong guy.
His 30-year old brother Walid Amri sounded distressed and was struggling to speak over the phone. Women were wailing in the background.
“This is a very difficult time for the entire family,” he said, before his voice broke.
While Amri’s death ended the hunt for the suspect who drove a truck into a teeming Christmas market on Monday, killing 12 and wounding dozens, it also raised a whole new set of questions.
Amri appeared to travel right under the noses of European authorities, though a circuitous route.
After leaving Berlin, Amri is believed to have traveled by train through the French city of Chambery and appears to have stopped in Turin, Italy, before arriving in Milan, said Alberto Nobili, coordinator of the anti-terrorism department at the district attorney’s office in Milan. Milan police say they have surveillance video placing Amri at Milan’s train station around 1 a.m.
German officials said the investigation would accelerate toward possible accomplices and the route Amri took to escape Berlin. “If there are others who are guilty or accomplices, we will hold them accountable,” Merkel said.
Nobili said Italian authorities were sharing ballistic information with the Germans to ascertain whether the gun used to shoot the Italian police officer was the same one used to slay the Polish driver whose truck Amri is believed to have hijacked on Monday before slamming into the Christmas market, killing 12 and wounding dozens.
His death in Italy also raised serious questions about the handling of the case by German authorities. German investigators only uncovered their single biggest clue — his wallet with identification left in the truck’s cabin — the following day after the attack, suggesting the delay may have facilitated his flight from Germany.
“We need to increase international collaboration against terrorism,” Gentiloni said.
Minniti said he had phoned the wounded Italian officer, Cristian Movio, and Scatà, an agent-in-training. Already, Facebook sites and other social media sites were popping up, including ““give Luca Scatà a medal” and “Luca Scatà world HERO.”
“Thanks to him Italians can have a Merry Christmas,” Minniti said.
By heading to Italy, Amri was, to some extent, retracing his steps. He had first arrived in Europe in April 2011 on the Italian island of Lampedusa, and spent four years in jail in Sicily, where Italian officials believe he was radicalized.
The news of Amri’s death came as German police said they had thwarted yet another terrorist attack planned against a shopping mall and arrested two brothers from Kosovo.
Authorities detained the brothers, aged 28 and 31, after receiving an intelligence tip-off, according to North Rhine Westphalia police. Security at the Centro Mall in the western German city of Oberhausen has been beefed up.
Amri had a criminal record in Europe and his native Tunisia, where he was accused of hijacking a van with a gang of thieves. Italian authorities jailed him in 2011 for arson and violent assault at his migrant reception center for minors on the isle of Sicily.
There, his family noted, the boy who once drank alcohol — and never went to mosque — suddenly got religion.
He began to pray, asking his family to send him religious books. The Italian Bureau of Prisons submitted a report to a government anti-terrorism commission on Amri’s rapid radicalization, warning that he was embracing dangerous ideas of Islamist extremism and had threatened Christian inmates, according to an Italian government official with knowledge of the situation. The dossier was first reported by ANSA, the state-run Italian news service.
The Italians tried to deport Amri but could not. They sent his fingerprints and photo to the Tunisian consulate, but the authorities there refused to recognize Amri as a citizen. The Italians, officials there say, could not even establish his true identity. Italy’s solution: After four years in jail, they released him anyway — giving him seven days to leave the country.
He had previously known links to Islamist extremists, and German efforts to deport him also failed because Tunisia had initially refused to take him back.
In Germany, the case was already having serious repercussions — with talk of pushing through stricter legislation on the deportation of migrants, particularly those with criminal records. The Germans are especially seeking to deport North Africans who have claimed asylum, and whose countries of origin have refused to take them back.
Merkel said Wednesday she had earlier spoken on the phone with Tunisian president Beji Caid Essebsi.
“I told the president that we have to significantly speed up the return process and continue to increase the number of returnees.” she said. “We can be relieved at the end of this week that an acute danger has ended. The general threat of terrorism, however, continues to exist, as it has for many years.”
Pitrelli reported from Rome. Stephanie Kirchner in Berlin contributed to this report.