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European Security High for Christmas; Germany Probe Continues

  • VOA News

A French gendarme stands guard as heavy police forces secure the access to Notre-Dame cathedral during Christmas celebrations in Paris, France, Dec. 24, 2016.

European security authorities, shaken by the latest terror attack at a Christmas market in Berlin, are on high alert as Christians gather at Europe’s churches and cathedrals to celebrate the Christmas holiday with prayer and song.

In France, 91,000 gendarmes and police were deployed in churches and Christmas markets. The scene was similar in Italy, where Berlin attacker Anis Amri was shot to death early Friday in Milan.

Christmas is one of the biggest Christian holidays, and it brings people together in public spaces where terrorists can easily strike.

Europe has seen a sharp rise in terrorist attacks in the past 13 months, starting with the Paris attacks last November that left 130 people dead.

Major attacks followed in the cities of Brussels, Nice and, most recently, Berlin. A number of smaller attacks took place in France, Germany and Italy, and European authorities say they have foiled a number of plots over the past year.

Anis Amri is shown in handout pictures from the German Bundeskriminalamt Federal Crime Office. Amri is suspected in Monday's truck attack on a Christmas market in Berlin.
Anis Amri is shown in handout pictures from the German Bundeskriminalamt Federal Crime Office. Amri is suspected in Monday's truck attack on a Christmas market in Berlin.

In the latest developments in the Berlin attack, authorities in Tunisia on Saturday arrested the nephew of suspected attacker Anis Amri, along with two other Islamist militant suspects said to be connected to Amri, the interior ministry said.

The three suspects are said to be members of a “terrorist cell ... connected to the terrorist Anis Amri who carried out the terrorist attack in Berlin,” read the statement. The three were arrested Friday.

Meanwhile in Tunis, the capital of Tunisia, hundreds of people took to the streets Saturday to hold an anti-extremism rally. Hundreds of people gathered to criticize the Tunisian government for allowing jihadists who fought overseas to return to Tunisia.

“No to freedom for terrorist groups!” the protesters chanted.

The rally gathered outside the Bardo Museum, where an extremist attack took place last year that was claimed by the Islamic State group. Gunmen killed 22 people in the March 2015 attack, including 21 foreign tourists and a Tunisian policeman.

Germany search continues

The arrests in Tunisia come as Germany continues to search for possible accomplices of the suspected Berlin truck attacker, a day after he was killed in a shoot-out Friday with Italian police in Milan.

Armed police officers stand behind concrete blocks for protection near the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Friday, Dec. 23, 2016.
Armed police officers stand behind concrete blocks for protection near the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Friday, Dec. 23, 2016.

As most of the country was preparing Saturday to celebrate Christmas Eve, German authorities said hundreds of investigators will be working on the probe throughout the holiday season.

Speaking to reporters Friday in Berlin, Chief Federal Prosecutor Peter Frank said Investigators are trying to determine if 24-year-old Tunisian Anis Amri received help from a network of supporters.

Frank said fingerprints confirmed Amri carried out the attack that killed 12 people and wounded 56 others last Monday. He said, though, the investigation is far from over.

"It's very important for us now to find out whether there was a network of supporters and accomplices, whether there were confidants who helped the sought person to prepare and conduct the attack and to escape," said Frank.

Seeking conspirators

German Chancellor Angela Merkel reiterated the investigation would focus on possible conspirators.

Amri is believed to have hijacked a truck and used it to mow down holiday revelers at a Berlin Christmas market in an attack claimed by the Islamic State group.

An IS-linked video released Friday purportedly showed Amri calling for more attacks in Europe.

The video released by Amaq, the news agency linked to IS, has not been independently authenticated, but material previously released by Amaq has been credible.

Earlier Friday, German police arrested two brothers from Kosovo suspected of planning an attack on a shopping mall in Oberhausen, in the West German state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

It was not clear if the men were connected with the Berlin attack.

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