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Berlin attack suspect is a ‘nightmare’ for authorities

The manhunt stemming from Monday’s Christmas market massacre in Berlin has spread across Europe, and there’s a new suspect. His name is Anis Amri, and he is a 24-year-old asylum seeker from Tunisia. Judy Woodruff speaks with special correspondent Malcolm Brabant, who is in Berlin, about the suspect’s criminal history, the reward for information about him and increased surveillance in Germany.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The manhunt in the Christmas market massacre in Berlin has now spread across Europe, and there's a new suspect. German officials today identified him as Anis Amri, a 24-year-old asylum seeker from Tunisia.

    For more, we turn to special correspondent Malcolm Brabant, who is in Berlin.

    Malcolm, first of all, what can you tell us about this suspect they've identified?

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    Well, this guy, Amri, the reason why German authorities know it's him is that they found his identity card in the door, in the floor well of the truck when they searched it.

    Now, he is really out of central casting when it comes to a petty criminal who has been radicalized, and he's the sort of nightmare that the authorities really have been dreading because he has been in the criminal justice system throughout Europe. He spent four years in jail in Italy for starting a fire. He slipped into Germany using the open border system. He tried to claim asylum here.

    The German authorities actually had him in their custody three times but each time they managed to let him go. They wanted to deport him back to Tunisia but weren't able to because the Tunisians said he wasn't one of their citizens.

    Now, this is a problem when people try to deport people is some of the third-world countries, they don't want the guys back. So, this guy Amri slipped away from the Germans and now, they're desperately trying to find him.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, Malcolm, we know authorities raided or visited two different places today. What if they said about that?

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    Well, there have been a number of raids that have taken place. They've raided a couple of apartments in the Berlin area. They also raided an asylum center in the Rhineland to the west of here, the Dutch border, which is a place he was thought to be staying but on each of these raids, they, unfortunately, didn't find him.

    Now, what the authorities have done and what is really quite significant is they have said they would be willing to pay more than $100,000 for information leading to the arrest of this man. Now, the reason they're doing this is they believe that this man has gone underground in radicalized areas, that there are probably a network of people he's associated with because, for example, he was supposedly keeping company who was an ISIS recruiter and somebody who radicalized others in the past who is now in the custody of the German authorities.

    And what they're trying to do is they're hoping the money will loosen the tongues of people in areas where people might be frightened and hopefully this money will lead to Amri and help them to capture him before he does any more damage.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Separately, Malcolm. We know the German cabinet today approved more public surveillance in Germany. What's the background of that?

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    Well, this is a really controversial thing as far as Germans are concerned because it means there will be many more CCTV cameras around and other sorts of public surveillance. Now, this is something Germans are extremely sensitive about because of their history and that dates back to the Second World War when, of course, the Gestapo had terrible networks monitoring people. And then when the Iron Curtain came down, of course, the East Germans were under the Stasi noses dreadful in public and national surveillance going on.

    And so, Germans guard their privacy very closely indeed, almost to the extent that it's ridiculous. For example, the first pictures that the authorities were issuing of Amri had his eyes blurred because that was to respect his privacy. Now, since then, they have gone public. But the authorities do believe here that they have to have more sort of — more surveillance to make sure that security is in place here, and that's something that the German public is not going to like.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And just very quickly, Malcolm, we know the police tape has been removed from the scene of where this truck attack took place. The market is now opened again. Are people going back there?

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    Yes. It's a very, very sad sight, indeed. The crime scene tape was lifted about four hours ago and the lights are on, but all these Christmas market stalls are closed. There's a bar right next to Wilhelm Kaiser Church, the bombed out wreck of the church, which was there to remind people of the Second World War. It feels like Christmas has been killed.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Such a grim time.

    Malcolm Brabant reporting for us from Berlin — thank you.

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