(BBC) – A Europe-wide manhunt is under way for the Tunisian man wanted for the Berlin lorry attack, who had been under surveillance earlier this year, media reports say.
Anis Amri, 24, was reportedly monitored on suspicion of planning a robbery in order to pay for guns but surveillance was lifted for lack of evidence.
Before entering Germany, he had served four years for arson in Italy.
Monday evening’s attack at a Christmas market killed 12 and injured 49 more.
An arrest warrant was issued after Anis Amri’s residence permit was found in the cab of the lorry that left a trail of carnage at a Christmas market near Berlin’s most famous shopping street, the Kurfuerstendamm.
The German authorities warn he could be armed and dangerous and are offering a reward of up to €100,000 (3.75 million baht; £84,000; $104,000) for information leading to his arrest.
Reports suggest he may have been injured in a struggle with the Polish driver of the lorry, found murdered in the cab.
Chancellor Angela Merkel has met her security cabinet to discuss the investigation into the attack.
In another development, the German cabinet approved plans agreed last month to allow more video surveillance of public places.
German judicial sources say the suspect, who reportedly entered Germany last year, was monitored in Berlin between March and September on suspicion of planning a robbery to pay for automatic weapons for use in an attack.
Surveillance was reportedly called off after it turned up nothing more than drug-dealing in a Berlin park and a bar brawl before the suspect disappeared from his regular haunts in Berlin.
Ralf Jaeger, the interior minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, confirmed that Anis Amri had, more recently, attracted the attention of counter-terrorism police.
“Security agencies exchanged their findings and information about this person with the Joint Counter-Terrorism Centre in November 2016,” the minister said.
Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper reports that the suspect moved within the circle of an Islamist preacher, Ahmad Abdelazziz A, known as Abu Walaa, who was arrested in November.
A police notice lists six different aliases used by Anis Amri, born on 22 December 1992, who at times tried to pass himself off as an Egyptian or Lebanese.
The suspect was facing deportation as of June but there was a delay in receiving paperwork from Tunisia.
A brother of the suspect in Tunisia, Abdelkader Amri, told AFP news agency he could not believe his eyes when he saw his relative’s face in the media.
“I’m in shock and can’t believe it’s him who committed this crime,” he said, before adding: “If he’s guilty, he deserves every condemnation.”
The suspect has a history of crime:
Anis Amri’s father and security sources told a Tunisian radio station that after leaving Tunisia about seven years ago, he had served four years in an Italian prison over a fire at a school
He was also sentenced to five years in prison in Tunisia in absentia, reportedly for aggravated theft with violence
An earlier suspect, a Pakistani asylum seeker, was freed from German custody on Tuesday, with officials saying there was no evidence to link him to the attack.
‘Struggle with driver’
Some 49 people were also injured when the lorry was driven into crowds at the Breitscheidplatz Christmas market. So-called Islamic State said one of its militants carried out the attack but offered no evidence.
Polish citizen Lukasz Urban was found dead on the passenger seat with gunshot and stab wounds.
Investigators believe the lorry was hijacked on Monday afternoon as it stood in an industrial zone in north-western Berlin, Germany’s Bild tabloid reports.
Mr Urban had stopped there after the delivery of Italian steel beams he was carrying was postponed until Tuesday.
GPS data from the vehicle reportedly shows it made small movements “as if someone was learning how to drive it” before leaving for the city at 19:40 (18:40 GMT), heading for the Christmas market near the Kurfuerstendamm, Berlin’s main shopping street.
Top: Archive images of the suspect have been released. Photo: Thinkstock via BBC
Inset: An archive image has been released believed to show murdered lorry driver Lukasz Urban. Photo: Opozita.com via BBC