Tunisian held in Germany linked to 2015 Tunis museum attack
A Tunisian man arrested in Germany on Wednesday on suspicion of recruiting for the Islamic State group is also accused of involvement in the deadly 2015 attack on the Bardo Museum in Tunis, German prosecutors said.
The 36-year-old is wanted by Tunisian authorities on suspicion of “participating in planning and carrying out” the attack, which killed more than 20 foreigners, the prosecutor’s office in the western state of Hesse said in a statement.
They also suspect him of involvement in a bloody jihadist assault on the border town of Ben Guerdane last March, it added.
Tunisia issued a warrant for his arrest in June 2016 but he escaped extradition from Germany late last year because Tunisian authorities failed to provide the required documentation for his deportation, according to the prosecutors.
The suspect was taken into custody in the early morning as police carried out sweeping anti-terror raids in Frankfurt and nearby towns.
There was no immediate response from Tunis to the arrest.
“At the moment we don’t know the identity of this person, there are several suspects in the Bardo and Ben Guerdane cases currently on the run,” Tunisian prosecution spokesman Sofiene Sliti told AFP.
The case is likely to reignite debate about Tunisia’s cooperation in taking back nationals due for deportation.
The issue has already caused tensions between the German government and Tunis after it emerged that the Tunisian national who ploughed a truck into a Berlin Christmas market in December, killing 12 people, was a failed asylum-seeker.
Anis Amri should have been deported months earlier but Tunisia did not provide the necessary paperwork until after the attack.
– Raids –
More than 1,000 officers were involved in Wednesday’s dawn searches in the Frankfurt area, which targeted dozens of homes and offices as well as two mosques.
Alexander Badle, a spokesman for the Frankfurt prosecutor’s office, said the Tunisian national did not put up any resistance when he was taken into custody.
The suspect is accused of recruiting for the IS jihadist group and of trying to build a network of IS supporters with the goal of staging an attack in Germany.
Prosecutors are also investigating 15 other people aged 16 to 46 over the alleged plot.
Badle stressed the plans were still “at a very early stage”.
“There was no concrete danger of an attack,” he told reporters in the western city of Wiesbaden.
The suspect arrived in Germany as an asylum-seeker in August 2015, the prosecutors’ statement said. He had already lived in the country for a decade some years earlier.
He was arrested the following August on an outstanding 2008 conviction for causing bodily harm.
After serving a 43-day sentence, he was kept in detention awaiting deportation to Tunisia before the authorities were forced to release him again.
“As the Tunisian authorities, despite repeated reminders from the German authorities, failed to supply the necessary deportation documents within the 40-day period, the suspect was released on November 4, 2016,” the statement said.
He was kept under surveillance from the day of his release until his arrest on Wednesday, it added.
– High alert –
Germany has been on high alert since the December 19 Christmas market assault, wich was claimed by the Islamic State group.
The attack fuelled criticism of Germany’s security services and of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s liberal asylum policy, with opponents saying not enough was done to stop Amri.
Merkel, who is up for re-election this year, has since vowed to get tough on deportations and step up pressure on countries to take back nationals whose asylum claims have been rejected, particularly in the Maghreb region.
Separately, police in Berlin on Tuesday arrested three suspected jihadists accused of planning to travel to foreign “war zones”, likely to be either Iraq or Syria.
IS claimed responsibility for the Bardo attack, in which two gunmen opened fire at the museum, killing 21 foreign tourists and a police officer.
The Ben Guerdane attack saw dozens of heavily armed jihadists cross into the frontier town from Libya to launch coordinated attacks on police and army posts, killing seven civilians and 13 security personnel.