German government talks collapse; Merkel seeks to reassure
address the media during a news conference about the results of their exploratory talks on a coalition of their parties in Berlin, Germany, Monday, Nov. 20, 2017. (Michael Sohn/Associated Press)
By David Rising | APNovember 19 at 8:49 PM
BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged early Monday to maintain stability after the Free Democratic Party pulled out of talks on forming a new government with her conservative bloc and the left-leaning Greens, raising the possibility of new elections.Merkel told reporters that the parties had been close to reaching a consensus on how to proceed with formal coalition talks but that the Free Democrats decided abruptly to pull out just before midnight Sunday — a move she said she respected, but found “regrettable.”
She said she would consult with Germany’s president later in the day to brief him on the negotiations and discuss what comes next.
Without bringing the Free Democrats back to the table, Merkel will be forced to try to continue her current governing coalition with the Social Democrats, although that center-left party has said it will not do so, or she could try to form a minority government, which was seen as unlikely. Otherwise, Germany will have to hold new elections.
“It is at least a day of deep reflection on how to go forward in Germany,” Merkel said. “But I will do everything possible to ensure that this country will be well led through these difficult weeks.”
Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats and sister Bavaria-only Christian Social Union, the pro-business Free Democrats and the left-leaning Greens had already blown past Merkel’s own deadline of Thursday to agree on a basis for opening formal negotiations on a coalition of all four parties, a configuration that has never been tried at a national level in Germany.
Key sticking points were the issues of migration and climate change.
Among other things the Greens were pushing for Germany to end its use of coal and combustion engines by 2030, though they had signaled they were open to some compromise.
The other parties are also committed to reducing carbon emissions, but Merkel’s bloc hadn’t put a date on when to phase out coal. The Free Democrats also expressed concern about what the moves would mean for jobs and Germany’s economic competitiveness.
On migration, the Christian Social Union wanted an annual cap on refugees, while the Greens sought to allow more categories of recent migrants to bring their closest relatives to join them.
Merkel said that “we thought we were on a path where we could have reached an agreement,” when that the Free Democrats decided to pull out.
Free Democrat leader Christian Lindner told reporters that his party decided to withdraw rather than further compromise its principles and sign on to policies the party was not convinced of.
“It is better not to govern than to govern falsely,” he said.
Greens politician Reinhard Buetikofer criticized Lindner’s decision, saying on Twitter that the Free Democrat had chosen “a kind of populist agitation instead of governmental responsibility.”
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Looking ahead, if it comes to a new election, polls currently suggest it would produce a very similar parliament to the current one, which would make efforts to form a new government similarly difficult.
Though Merkel could also abandon the Free Democrats and the Greens and instead form a coalition with the center-left Social Democrats, her current partners in the outgoing government, the Social Democrats have been adamant about going into opposition following its disastrous result in the Sept. 24 election.
Party leader Martin Schulz as recently as Sunday again ruled out the possibility of pairing up with Merkel’s bloc to form a new government.
Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Turkey accuses German politicians of ‘bowing down to populism’
By Judith Vonberg and James Masters, CNN
Updated 6:52 AM ET, Mon September 4, 2017
Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech at the Grand National Assembly of Turkey in Ankara, on June 13, 2017.
(CNN)Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her election rival Martin Schulz of “bowing down to populism and prejudice” after both candidates called for an end to Ankara’s European Union membership talks in a live TV election debate Sunday night.
In a series of tweets posted Monday morning,presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin said that the two candidates chose to attack Turkey and Erdogan “while ignoring Germany and Europe’s fundamental and critical issues” and accused Germany of embracing the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, a Kurdish separatist group that the Turkish government has branded a terrorist organization.
Turkey’s deputy Prime Minister, Mehmet Sismek, also reacted on Twitter. “EU never had a credible commitment to let Turkey in,” he wrote Monday. “Merkel isn’t only shooting herself in the foot but also jeopardising the future of Europe.”
In the debate Sunday night — three weeks before Germany’s federal election — Merkel called for accession negotiations to be stopped in an apparent change of stance on Turkey’s bid to join the EU.
“Turkey should not be a member of the EU,” Merkel said. “I will discuss with colleagues again to see if we can come to a joint position and end these accession negotiations.”
But she insisted that it was important for the two countries to keep talking, especially in light of the Germans currently being held as political prisoners in Turkey.
“I have no intention of ending diplomatic relations with Turkey,” Merkel said.
More than 10 Germans are being held. Two were arrested Friday, according to German authorities, but one has since been released, according to CNN affiliate N-TV.
The comments about Turkey came during a live TV debate between Merkel and Schulz on Sunday night.
Her Social Democratic rival also said he would seek to end membership talks. “We would be accepting someone who is now visibly calling into question all of the basic values of European cooperation,” Schulz said.
Turkey has “overstepped all red lines.”
The exchange of blows marks a further escalation in tensions between the two countries.
Relations between Berlin and Ankara have been in a downward spiral since last summer, when a failed coup against Erdogan sparked a crackdown on civil liberties and mass arrests of the political opposition, activists and journalists, including German citizens.
Speaking at her annual summer news conference last week, Merkel said Turkey’s jailing of Germans was further damaging already fraught ties between the two countries, saying their imprisonment was “unjustified.”
Among the prisoners is German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yucel, who was arrested in Turkey in February on charges of terror propaganda, and human-rights activist Peter Steudtner, held since July with nine others and charged with “committing crimes in the name of a terrorist organization without being a member.”
Journalist Deniz Yucel has now been held in Turkey for more than 200 days, according to German authorities.
Germany threatens trade and travel restrictions
Germany has changed its tactics over Turkey in recent months, threatening to impose travel and trade restrictions if journalist Yucel and activist Steudtner aren’t released from prison.
In July, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel warned Germans against traveling to Turkey and suggested that the German government would review corporate investments in Turkey.
“Someone who detains law-abiding visitors to their country on the basis of outlandish, indeed absurd, accusations and throws them into prison has left European values behind,” Gabriel said, calling for Steudtner’s release. “We cannot continue as before.”
Nobel laureate on Erdogan’s Turkey06:45
A few weeks earlier, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry criticized an art installation in Berlin depicting Erdogan as a dictator that coincided with the G20 summit in Hamburg, calling it “a new example of rising racism and xenophobia in the country.”
Soon after, the Turkish government blocked German lawmakers from visiting German troops stationed in Turkey participating in NATO operations in Syria.
Earlier this year, German officials prevented top politicians, including Erdogan, from addressing Turkish rallies in Germany in the lead-up to an April referendum that handed Erdogan sweeping new powers.
In response, Erdogan likened the German government to that of Adolf Hitler. “I thought that Nazism was over in Germany, but it turns out that it is still going on,” he said. “It is still going on, it is clear.”
Merkel warns Erdogan over election
Germany heads to the polls in September02:22
Relations with Turkey are a key issue in the days leading to federal elections in Germany, where there are some 3 million people with Turkish roots.
Earlier this month, Erdogan called on voters of Turkish origin to boycott the two biggest parties — Merkel’s Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats — along with the Green Party in the election, describing them as “enemies of Turkey,” according to CNN affiliate NTV.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel had a warm meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday that stood in sharp contrast to her growing split with President Trump. (Filip Singer/European Pressphoto Agency)
LONDON — President Trump escalated his feud with Berlin on Tuesday, even as Germany’s leader and Trump’s own spokesman tried to defuse the conflict, which has sent tremors through Washington’s core postwar alliances.Before the presidential tweets began flying early Tuesday, Chancellor Angela Merkel reaffirmed the importance of Germany’s ties to the United States. But she pointedly did not back down from earlier comments about Europe’s need to rely on itself rather than its friends.
The dispute started as Trump sped through meetings in Europe last week and appeared to leave a trail of bruises in his wake. It heated up after Merkel did little over the weekend to hide her disappointment with Trump’s refusal to commit Washington to the climate change treaty. And it was further inflamed Tuesday at 6:40 a.m. Washington time when Trump fired a white-hot shot straight at Berlin’s glass-and-concrete chancellery.
“We have a MASSIVE trade deficit with Germany, plus they pay FAR LESS than they should on NATO & military. Very bad for U.S. This will change,” Trump wrote in his early-morning tweet.
The fight has had few obvious practical consequences so far. But Merkel’s meetings this week — first a chummy meeting with India’s leader on Tuesday and then a sit-down with the Chinese prime minister on Wednesday — were bracing reminders of the trade ties being forged outside the United States as Washington moves toward a sharply more nationalist and protectionist agenda.
White House says Trump and Merkel’s relationship is ‘fairly unbelievable’
White House press secretary Sean Spicer said that President Trump and German chancellor Angela Merkel “get along very well,” during a press briefing on May 30, and said her comments about increased European independence are “what the president called for.”(Reuters)
Merkel refused to give ground Tuesday, even as she sought to ease the dispute with a rhetorical hug.
“Transatlantic relations are of paramount importance,” Merkel said alongside Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Berlin. “What I did was merely to point out that in light of the present situation, there are yet more reasons that we have to take our destiny in Europe into our own hands.”
The Modi meeting was planned long before the dust-up with Trump. But the cheerful body language between the two leaders was difficult to miss.
“We are meant for each other,” Modi said to Merkel, smiling widely, as both leaders made positive comments about a European Union-India trade deal in the works.
German officials — who say that the United States remains Germany’s most important international ally and an important partner whose friendship they want to maintain — feel that Trump has prioritized relations with authoritarian nations such as Saudi Arabia instead of democratic allies. Many were shocked when Trump declared in Riyadh that “we are not here to lecture” the mostly unelected assembled leaders — and then blasted European allies in Brussels for not spending enough on defense.
That led Merkel to conclude that she needs to advocate a sharply more pro-European agenda at home ahead of September elections, one ally said. She said Sunday at a beer-hall political rally that Europe can no longer fully rely on others, a message clearly about Washington, even if it was aimed largely at her own voters.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel talks with President Trump during a photo session with Group of Seven leaders last week in Italy. (Evan Vucci/AP)
“It was mostly to say we have to strengthen Europe. It was not anti-Trump,” said Norbert Röttgen, a close Merkel ally who is the chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the lower house of Germany’s Parliament.
“You have to explain to your voters what we make of the experience of the last days,” Röttgen said. “Trump, he is an unprecedented president. He calls into question by the way of his behavior, by what he is saying, by what he is not saying, the foundation of this alliance, and you have to give an answer to that. And the answer of the chancellor is that we have to bring into this alliance, not against this alliance, but into this alliance, a stronger German hand.”
With Germany’s elections drawing closer, Merkel has been forced to turn her attention to her own voters — most of whom loathe Trump and staunchly oppose increasing defense spending, one of his key demands. She is seeking a fourth term in office and has rejected most of Trump’s criticisms as baseless.
Even before Trump’s victory last year, Merkel was increasing defense spending, pushing up the budget by $27 billion over the next three years. That would almost double current levels — but it would still be dwarfed by the $664 billion the United States spends every year.
Now Merkel needs to convince German voters that defense increases are in their own interest, rather than a response to Trump. In a preview of election-season arguments, leading Social Democrats said Monday that Merkel should have openly opposed Trump from the start rather than trying to work with him at first.
“Merkel needs to put some distance between herself and Trump, who is exceptionally unpopular in Germany,” said Marcel Dirsus, a political scientist at the University of Kiel in northern Germany.
But there are practical limits to any German split from Washington, Dirsus said. Germany is not militarily independent and is far from becoming so. And the United States remains an important trade partner.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Tuesday that there was no dispute between Trump and Merkel.
“I think the relationship that the president has had with Merkel he would describe as fairly unbelievable,” Spicer said.
But Europeans are growing weary of the message gap between Trump and the rest of his circle. They are still searching for which side to give greater weight — and last week’s trip tipped the balance toward the president.
What’s most important from where the world meets Washington
“Europeans think they are now being treated worse by Trump than countries like Russia or Saudi Arabia,” said Stephan Bierling, an expert on transatlantic relations at the University of Regensburg in Germany.
The bilateral strains mean that the United States has, to some extent, lost the trust of one of Europe’s most pro-American leaders. The German chancellor, the most powerful politician in Europe, grew up in East Germany, and her upbringing there has long been credited for her staunch support for closer European-U.S. ties.
“Given her experience with the Cold War, Merkel has long upheld and defended American ideals. But the belief in shared values has been shattered by the Trump administration,” Bierling said.
Noack reported from Berlin.
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A man steered a stolen beer truck into a crowd of people and then rammed it into a department store, killing at least three people in what officials were calling a terrorist attack in the heart of Stockholm on Friday afternoon.
“Sweden has been attacked. All indications are that it was a terrorist attack,” Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said in a statement.
The suspect in the attack was still at large. But at a news conference later in the evening, the Swedish police released a photo of a man being sought in connection for questioning.
The authorities said they did not know if it had been an isolated assault, or something bigger. The Swedish intelligence agency said “a large number” of people had been wounded.
Mats Löfving, the head of national operative department of the Swedish police, said, “This is now declared a national security event,” adding that officers across the nation were on heightened alert.
The Swedish Parliament was on lockdown, according to news reports. Train service in and out of the city grounded to a halt, and the police, who blocked off the affected area, urged people to stay at home and to avoid the city center.
The police said the first emergency call came in around 2:50 p.m. local time as the attack unfolded in Drottninggatan, Stockholm’s busiest shopping street. Witnesses described a scene of panic and terror.
“I saw hundreds of people running; they ran for their lives” before the truck crashed into the Ahlens department store, a witness identified only as Anna told the newspaper Aftonbladet.
At first, she said, she thought the noise was people moving things around the store, but then the fire alarm went off and staff members told her and other shoppers to get out of the building.
“We were running, we were crying, everyone was in shock,” Ms. Libert said. “We rushed down the street, and I glanced to the right and saw the truck. People were lying on the ground. They were not moving.”
Ms. Libert, who followed others as they were guided by officials to shelter, added, “My sister in law and some friends are close to the scene and at lockdown, can’t leave their office.”
She said that she usually avoided busy areas that could be potential terrorist targets, but that she had decided to take the Friday afternoon off to do some shopping.
“Some people felt that this was just a matter of time,” she said. “Paris, Brussels, London and now Stockholm. I just had a feeling something like this would happen.”
After the assailant plowed into people, the front of the truck ended up inside the department store.
A representative of the Spendrups brewery told Radio Sweden that the vehicle had been taken earlier in the day. A spokesman for the company told SVT, a national public broadcaster, that the truck had been stolen while the driver was loading it from the rear.
The brewery’s driver told the police that a masked man stole the vehicle, and that he was injured trying to stop him, the authorities said.
At the news conference, officials released a photo of a man wearing a hoodie. They did not name him as a suspect, saying only that they wanted to question him in connection with the attack.
The national police chief, Dan Eliasson, said, “We have the truck and the driver who usually drives it, but we do not have contact with the person or persons who drove it.”
Mr. Löfving, also of the police, asked for the public’s help in sharing the photo: “We want to get in touch with this man.”
The authorities also said that they could not confirm the number of dead or injured until they received more information from the hospitals.
The chief medical doctor at Stockholm’s Karolinska University Hospital, Nelson Follin, told the newspaper Dagens Nyheter that the hospital was treating “a handful” of people.
“The injuries are quite serious, but for now I cannot give further comments on conditions,” Dr. Follin said.
Previous accounts of shots being fired in parts of Stockholm were unfounded, the police said, adding that officers across Sweden were protecting high-risk sites.
The attack reverberated as far away as Norway, where the police said on Twitter that officers in that nation’s largest cities and at the airport in Oslo would be armed until further notice following the attack in Stockholm.
The assault came after several other episodes in Europe in the past year in which a vehicle was used to attack people.
The Islamic State group revived the idea of using cars as weapons after it broke with Al Qaeda in 2014. In the past year, ISIS militants have claimed responsibility for the deaths of more than 100 people in Europe.
Although some Swedes have expressed concern that immigration has led to a crime wave in the country — and President Trump seemed to suggest in a speech on Feb. 18 that there had been an attack in Sweden, when in fact nothing had occurred — the country and the region remain largely peaceful and safe.
(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HUFFINGTON POST/WORLD POST)
THE WEEKEND ROUNDUP
Europe was already reeling from major terror attacks in Brussels, Paris and Nice as well as Brexit and the defeat of the political establishment in the Italian referendum before this week. With anti-immigrant parties standing ambitiously in the wings waiting for events to further boost them into power, the worst thing that could have happened, the shoe waiting to drop, was a terror attack at Christmas time in Germany by an asylum-seeker linked to Islamist terror groups. It is just that which took place in Berlin this week.
That the inevitable has now occurred likely seals the political fate of Europe. Public opinion will surely turn decisively against the open-arms refugee policy of German Chancellor Angela Merkel — the most prominent defender of the troubled European project of integration and the free movement of people. Merkel’s coalition partner (yet mainstream opponent) Horst Seehofer of the Bavarian Christian Social Union, has already laid down the challenge. “We owe it to the victims, to those affected and to the whole population to rethink our immigration and security policy and to change it.” As Nick Robins-Early reports, the Alternative for Germany party and other anti-immigrant groups are already capitalizing on the incident. One AfD leader called those killed “Merkel’s dead.”
Alex Görlach hopes that Merkel’s considerable political skills can save the day by adjusting the Europe-wide refugee policy in the wake of this week’s tragedy. That she is also the only European leader who can stand up to the next American president, Görlach notes, could be a political asset.
Yet, even if the chancellor survives, the damage has already been done. The European idea, which has been losing luster for years, looks to be the latest and most consequential casualty of a world in turmoil that stretches from the rubble of Aleppo to the World War II memorial ruins of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, near where the Christmas market attack took place in Berlin.
Writing from Germany, Stefan Schmidt argues that his fellow citizens should resist calls to blame anyone but the perpetrator while continuing to embrace the values of an open, but inevitably vulnerable, society. In a similar vein,Sebastian Christ writes from Berlin that, “We can’t give in to those who want to force their hate-filled world view on us. … On top of everything, we must continue to hold on to freedom for ourselves. I will definitely continue going to Christmas markets in Berlin.”
Picking up on the theme in the back of everyone’s mind about Muslims at Christmas, Dean Obeidallah fondly remembers his Muslim father, born near Jesus’ birthplace of Bethlehem, hanging Christmas lights on their home in New Jersey as a child. He also surveys other American Muslims who partake in the holiday, including Aasif Mandvi.
Unfortunately, the attack in Germany wasn’t the only attack we saw this week. Another act that shocked the world took place in Ankara, where the Russian ambassador to Turkey was assassinated. John Tures, who has studied the different motivations and effectiveness of “lone wolf” versus “wolf pack” terrorists linked to organized extremists, argues that preventing future attacks, whether of the kind in Berlin or Ankara, requires being able to distinguish between these two threats.
Details are still emerging about the attack in Ankara, but it appears to be an apparent act of revenge over the Kremlin’s key role in the brutal assault on Aleppo in recent weeks. As Alex Motyl writes, more such attacks can be expected due to Putin’s Syria policy. “Anti-Russian terrorism is the new normal,” he says. Turkish journalist Ilgin Yorulmaz ponders the timing of the assassination in Ankara, which came on the eve of a tripartite meeting of Russia, Turkey and Iran concerning Syria, and reports that some suspect a geopolitical aim. “A strong NATO member,” she writes, “Turkey may have found a new ally in Russia, and possibly even Iran, to become a game changer in the Middle East.”
This week also saw the last evacuations out of Aleppo.Dr. Ahmad Tarakji, whose organization has been working on the ground in the besieged city,offers a detailed account of the humanitarian catastrophe there, which he says is far from over after the forced relocations. “The world has failed the people of Aleppo time and time again,” he writes, “but it’s not too late to act now to help those seeking refuge somewhere else. The international community must do everything in its power to protect these most vulnerable of people. They continue to suffer while the world is standing idly by.”
Writing from Moscow before the Syrian regime claimed control over all of Aleppo,Vladimir Frolov proposes that the best course for the Kremlin now would be, “declaring victory in Aleppo, scaling down its military operations against the rebels, refocusing its air war on ISIS in a new collaborative effort with the U.S. and pressuring the Assad regime into a political settlement.”
Returning to the hot issue of Russian influence meddling in the affairs of democracies, Toomas Hendrik Ilves knows from whence he speaks. In 2007, the former president of Estonia experienced a Kremlin-led cyberattack on his government, banking and news media servers. He expects more such attacks in Europe as elections loom. “The conundrum that Europe will face in the coming year,” he writes from Tallinn, “is whether or not to use illiberal methods to safeguard the liberal state. … Because of cyberattacks and fake news, we can already imagine the problem all democratic societies will face in future elections: how to limit lies when they threaten democracy?”
In an exclusive interview, former U.S. National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski claims Russian President Vladimir Putin was directly involved in the effort to tip the recent American election scales in Trump’s favor. “Yes. Russian intelligence was involved, no question,” he says, “Yes. Putin plays that kind of direct role. Russian intelligence is not some independent agency. It is an agency of the state organized for specific political purposes. Putin absolutely controls the state apparatus. No doubts there.” He also warns that “stupid irritations” over Taiwan risk derailing America’s most important foreign policy relationship with Beijing. “A world in which America and China are cooperating,” Brzezinski underscores, “is a world in which American influence is maximized.”
One of the hottest issues in the U.S. presidential campaign was Donald Trump’s pledge to build a wall with Mexico. Writing from Mexico City, Homero Aridjis and James Rameyoffer a highly innovative proposal: Instead of Trump’s wall, they want to build a border of solar panels. “It would have a civilizing effect in a dangerous area,” they contend. “Since solar plants use security measures to keep intruders out, the solar border would serve as a de facto virtual fence, reducing porousness of the border while producing major economic, environmental and security benefits on both sides.” Such an installation, they continue, “would make trafficking drugs, arms and people all the more difficult for criminal cartels. In Mexico, the solar border would create a New Deal-like source of high-tech construction and technology jobs all along the border, which could absorb a significant number of would-be migrant workers on their way to cross into the U.S. illegally, at great physical risk.”
Rolling back globalization to stem joblessness and inequality was another prime issue in the recent presidential election campaign. Branko Milanovic takes up this challenge, arguing that reversing globalization would only reduce growth rates in both the advanced and emerging economies, to no one’s benefit. “A more promising avenue for dealing with inequality in rich countries for the 21st century,” he writes, “is to reduce inequality in human and financial capital endowments. This implies, first, reversing the currently extraordinary high concentration of capital assets by giving the middle classes fiscal and other incentives to invest and own assets and, second, equalizing access to high-quality education that is increasingly monopolized by the rich.” A special Highlineinvestigative report we publish this week traces the corporations and criminals profiting handsomely from the refugee crisis.
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ISIS-linked news agency releases video of Berlin attacker swearing allegiance to the radical group
Suspected Berlin attacker killed in Milan
Tunisian migrant Anis Amri was shot and killed in Milan early on Dec. 23, after a massive manhunt. The 24-year-old suspect of the Berlin Christmas market attack shot a police officer in Italy before he killed in a shoot-out. (Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)
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.”
An image grab taken from a propaganda video bearing the logo of Islamic State group -linked Amaq News Agency and released on a crypted website on Dec. 23, 2016 shows Anis Amri pledging allegiance to the Islamic State. (AFP/Getty Images)
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, through 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.
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France increases security at Christmas markets after Berlin truck incident
France will increase security at Christmas markets across the country after a truck plowed into people at a seasonal market in Berlin on Monday, killing at least nine people, the Interior Ministry said.
“Franco-German cooperation will continue with no respite so that democracies win the war against those who want to strike at our values and freedoms,” the ministry said in a statement.
“All security forces will keep to a maximum level of vigilance. Security at Christmas markets will be reinforced with immediate effect.”
(Reporting by John Irish, editing by G Crosse)
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Ukraine and Poland’s parliaments have approved a resolution, considering moves by both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany as the reason for the start of World War II.
The resolution, called the Declaration of Remembrance and Solidarity, states that the non-aggression pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany was what led to the two militaries invading Poland and then the Baltics.
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“We point to the fact that the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact, signed August 23, 1939, struck between the two totalitarian regimes—the Communist Soviet Union and Nazi Germany—led to the ignition of World War II, prompted by German aggression, which the Soviet Union adopted on 17 September,” the document reads.
People dressed in Red Army uniforms wave Russian and Soviet flags during celebrations to mark Victory Day, at the Soviet War Memorial in Treptower Park in Berlin, Germany, May 9, 2015. In Russia, the Soviet campaign against Nazi Germany is a pact of much pride, but its neighbors also remember Moscow’s initial pact with Berlin.FABRIZIO BENSCH/REUTERS
The German invasion of Poland caused Warsaw’s Western allies to formally declare war on Germany, with little practical support for Poland. When Polish forces retreated to the southeast they found themselves in a pincer, as the Soviet Union unexpectedly entered eastern Poland, effectively splitting the country’s territory between Berlin and Moscow’s control.
The document also blames “the weakness of the international reaction to the escalation in totalitarian and chauvinistic ideologies ahead of World War II” as being what “encouraged the Communist and Nazi regimes”.
The declaration was approved with 367 votes for in Poland’s 460-seat lower house of parliament and 243 votes for in Ukraine’s 450-seat parliament.
The resolution is symbolically significant in Ukraine, as it not only highlights Moscow’s once-secret pact with the Nazis, but also refers to World War II in the Western style, as opposed to “the Great Fatherland War,” which is the name used by Russia and its allies.
According to Andriy Parubiy, the speaker of Ukraine’s parliament, the document has modern significance because of the Russian-backed insurgency in east Ukraine and Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea.
“The aggressor that unleashed the war on our lands in 1939 is currently attacking Ukraine,” he said after the vote. He later wrote on his Facebook page that his own family, who lived in Poland at the start of World War II, were persecuted by Soviets and helped by Poles.
The declaration has caused a stir in Moscow, where the the Soviet Union’s early deal with the Nazis is still seldom mentioned, though the ultimate Soviet triumph over Nazi Germany is a sense of great national pride.
Russia’s Modern History Museum called the declaration a “blatant, blasphemous campaign, which aims to rebrand memory of history.”
The museum’s director noted that the Soviet Union’s Red Army was instrumental in pushing the Nazis back from eastern Europe and said Western allies also struck a peace deal with the Nazi regime first, during the Nazi incursion into Czechoslovakia. However, she failed to mention that, unlike the pact with Moscow, the Western accord was never a secret and also involved no agreement to part Czechoslovak territory among Western states, as Moscow did with Poland.
The declaration prompted some criticism in Poland among the 44 lawmakers that voted against it as it contained to mention of the Volyn massacre , Polish news magazine Rzeczpospolita reports. The killing of as many as 60,000 Polish civilians between 1943 and 1945 by Ukrainian nationalist groups is one of the biggest historical sticking points between Ukraine and Poland. Some 20,000 Ukrainians were killed in revenge attacks.
Lithuania was also set to vote on the resolution, alongside Poland and Ukrainian. However, this vote will likely be carried out in December.
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Syrian refugee in Germany ‘attack plan’ kills himself in custody
By Claudia Otto and Angela Dewan, CNN
Thu October 13, 2016
Reports: German terror suspect commits suicide
Investigators believe Albakr was planning an attack on Berlin airport
Two Syrians tied Albakr to a sofa and alerted police to his whereabouts
Berlin (CNN)A Syrian refugee suspected of planning a bomb attack “with Islamist motives” on a Berlin airport has strangled himself to death with his shirt in detention, Saxony state justice officials said Thursday.
Investigators believe that 22-year-old Albakr, who arrived in Germany last year, was close to staging a terrorist attack. German police have said that Albakr’s “approach and behavior” suggest an ISIS link.
Albakr was arrested overnight Sunday after a manhunt that went for almost two days.
“On the evening of October the 12th, 2016, Jaber Albakr, the prime suspect in planning a serious attack against the state, took his life in the prison hospital of the Leipzig correctional facility,” the ministry said in a statement on its website, also confirming the news to CNN.
The Saxony Justice Minister Sebastian Gemkow told reporters that Albakr had strangled himself with his shirt but it was not immediately clear if he had hanged himself in his cell.
Gemkow said Albakr had been seen by a psychologist earlier in the day, but it was assessed that suicide was unlikely.
Authorities then decided to reduce its checks on him from every 30 minutes to every 15.
Albakr was on a hunger strike and refused to drink, Gemkow said, adding that authorities tried to resuscitate him for about half an hour after they found his body.
Police found around 1.5 kg of explosive materials in a Chemnitz apartment.
There was no video surveillance of his cell in accordance with local law, Gemkow explained.
Germany’s Spiegel Online had earlier reported that Albakr had been under round-the-clock surveillance in police custody and was considered at risk of suicide.
Arrest attempt questioned
Albakr was arrested overnight Sunday after two Syrians tied the suspect to a sofa in their flat in Leipzig and alerted police. Crime office officials said that Albakr had befriended them at a train station in Leipzig and had asked to stay with them.
His hosts learned from social media that Albakr was wanted by authorities and contacted police to come to their apartment and detain him.
Albakr’s capture ended a manhunt that lasted almost two days, and the manner of his arrest has raised questions about whether police botched an attempt on Saturday to detain him. CNN was not able to immediately contact the police Thursday. The Saxony justice ministry is expected to give a press conference later Thursday.
In a raid on an apartment in the city of Chemnitz on Saturday , which appeared to be Albakr’s home, police discovered a mix of explosives weighing 1.5 kg that they described as more dangerous than TNT. The German prosecutor’s office said the mix could cause significant damage in small amounts.
Police carried out a controlled explosion to gain access to the apartment.
Among the materials found was what police suspected to be TATP, or acetone peroxide, which was used in recent terror attacks in Brussels and Paris, Saxony’s crime office said.
Markus Ulbig, Saxony state’s interior minister, said that Albakr had come to Germany as an asylum-seeker in February 2015. A year later, he formally asked for asylum, which was granted in June this year.
German Chancellor Merkel has come under intense political pressure for her open-door policy on refugees. German officials said the country welcomed more than 1 million refugees in 2015 alone, many of them Syrians fleeing the war in their country.
There have been several low-impact attacks in Germany this year carried out by refugees, prompting Merkel’s administration to tighten security measures.
CNN’s Nadine Schmidt, Claudia Otto and Atika Schubert reported from Berlin. CNN’s Angela Dewan wrote from London and journalist Simon Cullen reported from London.
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German spy chief says Syrian suspect targeted Berlin airports
Hans-Georg Maassen, Germany’s head of the German Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (Bundesamt fuer Verfassungsschutz) addresses a news conference to introduce the agency’s 2015 report on threats to the constitution in Berlin, Germany, June 28, 2016.REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch –
The head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency (BfV) said a Syrian suspect arrested on Monday was building a bomb and probably planned to attack one of the airports in Berlin.
Hans-Georg Maassen told public broadcaster ARD that intelligence leads had suggested in early September that militant group Islamic State (IS) was planning an attack on Germany’s transport infrastructure.
Spies managed to track down and identify the suspect in the eastern state of Saxony last Thursday and started a round-the-clock observation, Maassen said.
“We found out that he then bought hot glue in a discount shop on the following day. And then we immediately put all measures into place to start a raid because we assumed this can basically be the last missing chemical for him to build a bomb.”
Maassen told ARD that initial intelligence information pointed to an attack on trains in Germany but it later became clear that he planned to strike a Berlin airport.
Germany’s top public prosecutor, Peter Frank, confirmed that his office had taken over the investigations because of the severity of the charges.
“The danger is mainly characterized by the fact that he developed a very high explosive for which special expertise was needed, and he made it in a very large quantity,” he told ARD’s television news programme, Tagesthemen.
Investigators said earlier they found “some 1.5 kilograms (3 lb) of an extremely dangerous explosive” in the suspect’s apartment.
State police said the chemical was probably triacetone triperoxide (TATP), a highly unstable substance also used by suicide bombers during the Paris attack in November 2015.
German authorities said earlier on Monday that the suspect was probably inspired by IS and was readying an attack similar to those in Paris and Brussels.
Jaber Albakr, 22, arrived in Germany in February last year during a migrant influx into the country and was granted temporary asylum four months later. Officials said he had not previously aroused suspicion.
The suspect’s background will be unwelcome news for Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose conservatives have lost support to the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party over her refugee-friendly policy.
(Reporting by Michael Nienaber; Editing by Catherine Evans and Sandra Maler)
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