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Police: Berlin Attack Suspect Dead. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired December 23, 2016 - 05:00   ET


[05:00:00] CHRIS BURNS, JOURNALIST: Miguel, no, we have not. This has just broken. German authorities are definitely in contact with Italian authorities. Obviously, they had to be to provide the information need. The fingerprints found on the truck here inside and outside that truck showing that Anis Amri was the guy who crashed that truck into the Christmas market.

So, yes, there is contact there. I mean, as far as relief, it probably we will be a lot of relief here. But it is still a nation on edge because you still have this network that Anis Amri worked with and will that, the fact that he was killed, could that stir things further? Who knows?

I mean, we saw based in Brussels and we saw after one suspect was taken in custody, there was another attack. So, we have to watch out. They are very much on alert. This support network from Abu Walaa, who is a hate preacher, had been training people, had been helping them and connecting them with ISIS. This is something that remains. There are hundreds of people like Anis Amri in Germany tracked by German authorities -- Miguel.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: That's what so many of the German people and German press are asking this morning about the gaps as you point out between the guy. The American authorities had been alerted about this guy. He managed to get away for a couple days.

The question now, Chris, will be piecing together who he talked to and where did he get money and where did he get the car, how did he get to Italy, and was he in contact with anybody else?

BURNS: Yes, because those connections could lead them to other people who may be plotting. We saw the other attack. We don't know if it is linked, but we saw the plot at the largest shopping mall in Europe in Oberhausen.

Just overnight, two more people were arrested. They were Kosovars, late 20s or early 30s, Kosovo refugees. There were a lot of refugees back in around 2000, around 1999.

You know, there are a lot of young people living here who many have been able to proselytized by groups like that to Abu Walaa group. And this is something that not only Germans, but other countries in Europe have to watch out for. They have to try to prevent this radicalization from continuing because we're just going to see more attacks like these.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Chris Burns, hang on for us there.

We want to go to Ben Wedeman who's in Italy for us by phone.

Ben, the details of this. Was he actually in the train station or was he transited by car when he was stopped?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): He was stopped. He was on foot outside the train station. We don't know how he got there or where he intended to go.

But he was stopped at 3:00 in the morning by a police patrol, which is not unusual late at night in Italian cities. They asked him for his documents. And when he reached into his backpack, apparently according to police, he pulled out a .22-caliber pistol and opened fired, wounding one of the police officers. However, another officer managed to fire back, killing the suspect.

But, yes, it is not clear at this point according to the Italian police what exactly he was doing there. It's not clear whether the police were actually working on a tip or just very good luck as far as law enforcement goes.

ROMANS: Yes, we don't know how he got there. We do know that it's not a surprise he would go to Italy. It is a country he is familiar with. He spent time in prison there. He spent several years in prison there, Ben, for starting a fire some years ago at a refugee center.

This is someone originally from Tunisia, but by all accounts, this guy was -- had become a hardened criminal.

WEDEMAN: Yes, and according to what the reports we're getting before he left Tunisia, his native Tunisia, he did have problems with drugs and alcohol and these problems continued when he arrived in Italy. He lit on fire and set a fire in a refugee center at the Italian island where many refugees first arrived. He spent four years in Italian prison.

And that is probably where he came into contact with the radicalization. The prisons, whether it is in the Middle East or Europe, they are becoming schools for people who like Anis Amri who go in as petty criminals and come out as radicalized potential terrorists.

[05:05:11] That seems to be what happened, perhaps, with him when he spent time in Italian prison.

MARQUEZ: Ben, stepping back from this a bit. We have foiled plot attack in Germany. A foiled plot in Australia right now.

What is the sense in Rome and across cities in Italy as we move into the Christmas season? Are they on alert not only for Amri, clearly, but for other attacks as well? WEDEMAN: Certainly. There has been an increased police and army

presence in Italian cities, going back to the "Charlie Hebdo" attack in the beginning of January of last year. And, certainly, when you go to most areas where people congregate, you will see there are soldiers, there are police and plain-clothes police.

Italian authorities are very much on alert for potential attacks. You speak to many Italians. They are sort of ill at ease that nothing has happened yet so far in this country. And they worry that it's only a matter of time before similar attacks happen here.

So, yes, the Italian intelligence is quite efficient when it comes to monitoring and watching suspects. I've read the transcripts of some of the documents where they monitor suspects. They really do follow them quite closely. So, we may have a case here of efficient intelligence service. Despite that, people are very concerned there could be similar attacks in Italy.

ROMANS: So, Ben, here are the questions we are trying to chase down here, how he got to Italy. Whether police had information specifically in Italy to be looking for him there near Milan. Those are all questions we are trying to get answers. Chris Burns is listening to the Italian news conference right now. All of you are doing that reporting.

There is the live picture of the press conference happening right now talking about the details. We know from our reporting indeed that the German officials and Italian officials are in contact here about this suspect and identifying the suspect.

I want to bring in here, Josh Rogin. He is a CNN contributor who covers international events, international affairs. He is in our Washington, D.C. bureau. He is a columnist for "The Washington Post."

Let's talk about sort of the period on the sentence here of this particular manhunt. But there is a lot still to be written about how safe Europeans are and where we go from here with who else may have been involved with Anis Amri, Josh.

JOSH ROGIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: That's right. Good morning, Christine.

I think this is the end of the first chapter of the saga. You know, the manhunt has completed, but the real questioning of what this means for Europe and the fight against terrorism is just beginning.

I mean, let's review what happened over the last few days, a real failure in homeland security and questions about the initial phases of the investigation. Questions about why this individual wasn't more closely surveilled and then broader questions about how closely Germany and Europe in general will deal with the issue of vetting of refugees, the pouring of people from Syria and other parts of the Middle East into their countries, and the political fallout that opponents of leaders of these governments will surely propagate in the days and weeks and months ahead.

So, we can sort of take one moment to appreciate the fact that there's some level of justice for the victims and that this perpetrator has been dealt with. But really, the problem is just far from solved.

MARQUEZ: But more immediately, Josh, the concern that you have a foiled plot in Australia, five arrested. The ringleader was Egyptian born. But everybody else in that plot was Australian born.

You have another plot just busted up in Germany, at the same time this guy was arrested alone, which I suppose is a good sign he was just a one-off and working alone.

But Western capitals and Western cities being targeted this Christmas seems to be a thing all of a sudden.

ROGIN: Yes. Not just all of a sudden. It is getting worse and worse. It is the new normal. It is a situation here to stay.

I think it is worth looking at governments have dealt with this threat.

[05:10:02] On the one hand, you have countries in Europe that are very far along in what we call sort of countering radicalization, countering violent extremism. They have a very proactive approach because they have been dealing with this problem for a long time. You know, if you look at it actually, countries in Europe are dealing with the problem of refugees and the potential for radicalization and violence by people coming into their countries from abroad, on a greater scope and scale, people in Australia and more people than governments in the United States.

So, although this was a failure by the German authorities, but every country will redouble their efforts to coordinate by sharing intelligence and creating databases that sort of allow us to keep track of these guys better and communicate this kind of information, to make sure there are as few holes in the security net as possible. There is no 100 percent defense. But the intelligence and homeland security and counter radicalization programs in all of the Western countries are really far behind in countries. No more chance to wait. We have to fix this now.

ROMANS: Josh, let's say what the foreign ministry is saying right now at that press conference that we've been telling you about that we're monitoring. He has just said the suspect is without a doubt -- the suspect they shot dead near Milan -- without a doubt the Berlin truck killer.

They say without a doubt, that is -- they know that that is their man, presumably, they are working with German officials to make sure they have -- we don't know is whether they knew to look for him or not. You talk about there never will be 100 percent certainty.

But I think so much of the German press right now is talking about the gaps. I mean, even the United States was alerted about this guy. He had been in their grips and it was a paper work error that they had to -- they couldn't deport him because of a paperwork error. I mean, at some point, this politically becomes very dangerous for incumbent leadership, doesn't it? ROGIN: Absolutely. I mean, sometimes it is better to be lucky than

good. You know, that's going to happen. You know, no way to look at what happened without calling this a huge intelligence failure both on part of the German authorities and their partners around the world.

So, there's -- everybody knows what needs to be done, OK? Everybody knows, you know, sort of, what are the bureaucratic obstacles. Yes, despite we keep encountering these failures and this goes back to Paris and to Brussels attacks last year, you know, this is not the first time that we had a beat on one of these guys and they slip through the net due to like bureaucratic incompetence, or, you know, the system doesn't work as well as it should.

So, everybody knows it has to be fixed. So, the question is, when will it be fixed? And that's going to take -- you know, I would say, some international leadership here, because this is not a problem that can be solved by any one country or any one set of borders, OK?

So, you've got all of the stovepipe systems at various levels of efficiency and reliability. It is just not working, OK? We have to build in more resilience, we have to build in more coordination, with increasing intelligence.

You can't surveil everybody who is a threat. You can't imprison everybody who might commit a terrorist act. It's not feasible, right? We have to be smarter and more collaborative in the way we approach this issue.

MARQUEZ: All right. Josh, hang on for a second.

Marco Minniti, the Italian interior minister, just saying that without any doubt, the attacker in the Berlin Christmas market attack is, in fact, dead, was killed in the hands of police in Milan.

We're going to go back to Ben Wedeman.

Ben, you're familiar with the train station. You're certainly familiar with Italy. Can you walk us through what you know about how they caught him in that particular place?

WEDEMAN: Well, they caught him outside the Chiasso-San Giovanni train station, which is a suburb of Milan at 3:00 in the morning. Police patrol stopped a man. This is not unusual late at night in the Italian cities and there, they asked him for his documents. And he reached into his backpack, pulled out a .22-caliber pistol, opened fire on the police patrol, hitting one of the policemen in the shoulder. Another policeman responded and killed, shot to death Anis Amri.

Now, the Italian, what we're also hearing, they found on the body of Anis Amri what appears to be a train ticket that came to Milan via France. It is important to keep in mind that he bought a train ticket in Europe, whether you are crossing borders or not, you don't actually have to produce any form of identification.

It is like buying a bus ticket. You just get on the train and buy a ticket and off you go. So, there are no controls at the borders. So, it is not surprising that he managed to get all the way from Berlin to Milan undetected.

[05:15:05] But he ran into this patrol outside the train station and this has happened. The Italian authorities obviously are happy they did this, the press conference just ended with applause from the journalists there.

MARQUEZ: Ben, can you just repeat that? How do you believe he was able to get a ticket from Germany to Italy?

WEDEMAN: Well, this is what the Italian press is reporting, is they found a train ticket on his body that indicated that he came to Italy via France. And, of course, it is easy enough to buy a train ticket. Within Europe, you don't have to produce identification. So, that's one way he got here. That is what we are seeing in the Italian press that it's been reported.

MARQUEZ: It must come as relief that he appears to have been traveling alone. There appears no one else he was working with?

WEDEMAN: Yes. But keep in mind, you have to ask, why did he return to Italy? Keep in mind that he spent several years in Italian prison. Six in total, six separate prisons. And it was probably there that he became radicalized.

We understand he did have a criminal record. As a result of being in prison, he probably came in contact with people who essentially brainwashed him into becoming not only just a criminal, but a terrorist and extremist as well. And the question is, if he was coming back to Italy, who was he coming back to see.

ROMANS: Ben, that is one of the big questions for policymakers when they talk about this trend, this zero to hero or loser to lion trend, where these guys go in to prison as petty criminals and come out jihadists, that romantic jihadi narrative that catches root like cancer in these guys' brains. You know, instead of watching people 24/7 once they are on a list, is there -- is there an effort under way to prevent this radicalization?

WEDEMAN: That's a good question. I mean, the problem is when you have extremists -- people who have committed crimes, you put them in prison. You put them in prison with other people of similar bend. And, you know, how do you change the culture within prison? It's a very good question.

The current focus is not so much on prison culture. The current focus is on preventing attacks and intelligence on potential terrorists. As I said before, I have seen the documents put out by the Italian prosecutors not for publication.

And the Italians follow the suspects in ways that is surprising. These documents have detailed transcripts and show phone conversations and show you where these people went and who they met and where they slept. I mean, they do keep a close eye on potential suspects.

But what goes on in prison and how prisoners interact with one another, that's a whole different can of worms.


ROMANS: Deep questions about radicalization, how it happened, and what, you know, what's happening there? Because, clearly, this is a problem in Europe and this dead suspect doesn't end those questions.

MARQUEZ: We have a big bust, Ben, in Australia. Five individuals arrested. One Egyptian born, the rest were Australian amazingly enough, and all self radicalized. Another foiled attempt in Germany aside from Amri.

Ben, what is the sensibility in Rome right now and cities across Italy?

WEDEMAN: Well, Italians are feeling uneasy the fact that nothing has happened here so far. They've seen attack in Belgium, attacks in France, and now attack in Germany. Italy has been spared so far. And, you know, we often ask intelligence officials why this is.

Now, there are a variety of theories. But one senior intelligence official told us that Italy is like a bridge into Europe for people coming from Africa and the Middle East, and that it would be a mistake for extremists to blow up the bridge. It would make it much more difficult for them to enter.

[05:20:00] There's another theory there is an agreement between the mafia and ISIS, that the mafia will allow ISIS to pass through Italy and they have been told not to do anything within the country.

There is another theory that the Italian services who fought against in the '70s and '80s, they had to deal with Middle East terrorism related to Palestinian and Israeli conflict for years, that despite at times, the impression of other outside the Italians are inefficient, are actually quite competent and experienced and very good at countering terrorism.

So, there is a variety of theories. But the Italians are thankful that until now, they have been spared the kind of attacks that have happened elsewhere.

ROMANS: All right. Ben Wedeman, we're going to let you go for a second so you can get more reporting. Again, we have heard from the Italian foreign ministry that without any doubt, this suspect in that Berlin Christmas market truck attack that killed 12 people and injured so many others, he is dead. He has been shot dead in the suburb of Milan, Italy.

We'll take a quick break. We've got more news and developments for you right after the break.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

MARQUEZ: The suspect in the Berlin market attack, the Christmas market attack, is dead. The Italian interior minister Marco Minniti announcing a short time ago, he was --

ROMANS: Without any doubt, this is the suspect.

[05:25:01] MARQUEZ: Without any doubt, as the interior minister said. He was caught in a train station outside of Milan at 3:00 in the morning. It was a check by police. A typical check that they would do for documents of an individual.

Rather than pulling out his documents, he pulled out a .22-caliber pistol, shot one officer who was injured but not killed. And then, the officer's colleagues returned fire, killing Anis Amri dead in Milan.

ROMANS: Let's bring in Josh Rogin. He is in Washington for us this morning. He is a columnist of "The Washington Post" and a contributor to CNN.

And here's what we know about this individual. He is dead now. Italian officials confirming that he is dead. They have been in contact with the German officials.

We don't know if they were aware that he was in the country or not. Italian media, according to our Ben Wedeman, is reporting that he had a train ticket from France to Milan in his pocket when he was searched.

We also know this is a guy who was under special surveillance by German authorities. He'd been in six different prisons in Italy. He had a troubled tenure in Europe. He was not authorized to be in Europe at all. German authorities tried to deport him, but did not have the right paper work.

It just sounds like a lot of gaps here that show real concerning problems for authorities getting their hands on guys like this.

ROGIN: Well, yes, good morning, Christine. I think that's exactly right. I think you've got two problems here.

One is that each of these countries in Europe has been too slow to really get up to speed with their intelligence cooperation, homeland security systems and other processes that allow them to communicate basic information they collected, OK? They have a lot of a haystack and it is hard to find a needle in a haystack. But that's only one part of the problem.

In the end, you're not going to be able to surveil every suspected terrorist. You're not going to be able to keep track every person who has been through the system, you know? I think the debate is both in Europe, but also here in the United States, is, how do you leverage relationships with communities in all of these countries to help you not only keep track, but sort of be a trip-wire, a first warning system when people like this start to do things that indicate that they might be preparing for an attack, that somebody says something, OK?

So, you've got a technology problem. You've got a government bureaucracy problem, but you've also got a problem with the relationships between governments and leaders in countries. Again, Europe, United States, you name it, and the communities that these people live in.

And some countries are doing better than others. For example, in Britain, they have a robust program to engage with Muslim communities, to try to get them to cooperate on this shared effort to keep the country safe.

Here in the United States, we are in the earlier stage of that. We have not had that debate. But I think it's definitely coming. I know for a fact it's being had inside of the Trump transition team now. So, there's a lot of work to be done here.

MARQUEZ: All of this happening as another plot attack was foiled in Australia, at the same time, another plot attack was foiled in Germany. Lots to consider as we move into the Christmas holiday.

We will be back in a few minutes with all the latest on this breaking news.