MI6’s former head of counter-extremism Richard Barrett said Thursday that German authorities are finding it virtually impossible to keep track of the 7,000 potential terror suspects roaming around the country.
Intelligence failings have been at the forefront of the public’s mind following Monday’s devastating truck terror attack on a Christmas market in Berlin, leaving 12 dead and 48 injured.
Not only did German authorities arrest the wrong suspect, but they determined that the actual suspect, Anis Amris, a known supporter of the Islamic State and recruiter for the terror group, had been arrested three times in 2016 alone and should have already been deported. Amris is a 24-year-old Tunisian asylum seeker.
Now, police are scrambling to track down Amris and have offered a 100,000 euro award for his capture.
In an interview with BBC Radio 4’s “Today” program, Barrett said it’s hardly surprising that German law enforcement are having a difficult time because they have to continually keep track of 550 “really extreme potential terrorists on the books.”
In total, the number of “live” potential terror suspects roaming around Germany amounts to 7,000. These suspects are believed to have some level of communication with extremist groups and are deemed worthy of further investigation.
“As you can imagine, that is an almost impossible number to control,” Barrett said.
In Amris’ case, the intelligence failings seem obvious. He was under investigation for planning attacks against the state, but had disappeared in the last several weeks. German officials had even passed information about him to U.S. authorities, who subsequently placed Amris on a no-fly list.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has come under fire following the attack, owing to her generous refugee policies, but she defended her anti-terrorism record and championed the “seamless” cooperation Germany has with other intelligence services.
“We have made considerable efforts in recent years to better meet the danger of terrorism,” Merkel said.
Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière concurred with Merkel’s assessment, saying, “authorities are doing everything, with a high degree of professionalism and connected across the country and internationally, to get the suspect quickly.”