* Italian jail term changed Tunisian profoundly -brothers
* Family points to Arab fellow inmates
* Amri later had contact with Islamists in Germany
* Suspect's fingerprints found on truck door -minister
* But brothers deny Amri staged Christmas market attack
By Mohamed Argouby, Joseph Nasr and Steve Scherer
OUESLATIA, Tunisia/BERLIN/ROME, Dec 22 In his
impoverished Tunisian hometown, Anis Amri drank alcohol and
never prayed, his brothers say. Then after joining the wave of
migrants crossing the Mediterranean, he ended up in an Italian
jail, only to emerge an utterly changed man.
Now he is prime suspect in this week's attack on a Berlin
Christmas market and two of his brothers, Walid and Abdelkader,
fear the failed asylum seeker may have been radicalised by
radical Islamists while he spent almost four years behind bars.
"He doesn't represent us or our family," Abdelkader told Sky
News Arabia. "He went into prison with one mentality and when he
came out he had a totally different mentality."
German police have yet to establish who drove a truck into
the market stalls on Monday, killing 12 people, though the
interior minister said there was a "high probability" it was
Amri. Abdelkader however said he was sure his brother - who
turned 24 on Thursday - was innocent of the crime.
Whether or when Amri was radicalised has also yet to be
proved. But in Oueslatia, a rural town that lives mostly off
agriculture, the brothers said something had profoundly changed
Amri after he made the dangerous sea crossing to Italy five
years ago as a teenager.
"When he left Tunisia he was a normal person. He drank
alcohol and didn't even pray," Walid told the TV channel. "He
had no religious beliefs. My dad, my brother and I all used to
pray and he didn't."
German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said on Thursday
that investigators had found the fingerprints of Amri, who is
being hunted across Europe, on the truck's door.
"If he did this, it is a dishonour to us. But I am sure that
he did not do it. He went to Europe because of social reasons,
to work and to help our family," Abdelkader told reporters.
A weeping Walid said their last contact had been 10 days
ago. "We were in touch with him through Facebook and by
telephone and he has no relation to terrorism," he said.
A senior Italian police source told Reuters that Amri
arrived on the island of Lampedusa, probably after being rescued
at sea, in February 2011. Amri's crossing, made shortly after
the overthrow of Tunisia's autocratic president in the first of
the "Arab Spring" revolts, followed a route that tens of
thousands of other boat migrants have since taken.
Amri was at a shelter on Lampedusa when migrants started a
fire, destroying parts of it to protest against being held
there. He told authorities he was a minor, though documents now
indicate he was not, and he was transferred to the Sicilian city
of Catania, where he was enrolled in school.
In October 2011 he was arrested after attempts to set fire
to a building, the source said, and later convicted of
vandalism, threats and theft.
Amri served his term in at least two different prisons in
Sicily, first in Catania and then in Palermo, before being sent
in May 2015 to a detention centre to await deportation.
Asked whether Amri had been radicalised in prison, the
police source said he did not know about this period, while the
director of the penitentiary system did not respond to Reuters
Palermo's court opened an investigation on Thursday into his
time in prison in Sicily to collect information on his time
behind bars, according to a senior magistrate.
Walid pointed a finger of blame for Amri's change on fellow
inmates. "Maybe he got into this when he was in prison where he
met Algerians, Egyptians and Syrians," he said.
Italy tried to deport Amri to Tunisia, but authorities there
refused to take him back, saying they could not be sure he was
Tunisian, and so he was released after 60 days and merely asked
to leave the country.
LITTLE OPPORTUNITY, FERTILE GROUND
Tunisian police were stationed outside the family home in a
poor district of Oueslatia on Thursday, where Amri's father
worked with a donkey cart. Counter-terrorism investigators had
been talking to the father and brothers.
Oueslatia, near the historic religious city of Kairouan, is
typical of small towns in central and southern Tunisia that
offer little opportunity for young men and became fertile ground
for jihadist recruiters.
Residents say in 2014 several families in Oueslatia had sons
leave to fight for Islamist militant groups and die in Syria,
Iraq and neighbouring Libya.
According to Walid, Amri had indeed left Italy in 2015 and
headed to Germany, joining a tide of migrants, via Switzerland.
Amri applied for asylum in the western German state of North
Rhine-Westphalia but this was rejected in June this year. Again
he could not be deported as he did not have identification
papers, so Tunisia would not take him.
While in Germany, he came to the attention of security
officials. Berlin authorities put him under surveillance this
year over suspicions that he had been planning a robbery to fund
the purchase of automatic weapons, and was seeking accomplices
for a possible attack.
Ralf Jaeger, interior minister of North Rhine-Westphalia,
said on Wednesday that German security agencies had shared
information on him with the Joint Counter-Terrorism Centre in
November, weeks before the attack.
Mass-circulation newspaper Bild quoted an unnamed
counter-terrorism official as saying: "It became clear in the
spring that he was looking for accomplices for an attack and was
interested in weapons."
Amri, however, was not arrested. Security officials stopped
their surveillance in September after their suspicions that he
had been planning an attack did not firm up.
WILLING TO DIE
During his time in Germany he moved between North
Rhine-Westphalia and Berlin. In July this year, police opened an
investigation against him in connection with a knife brawl in
the capital, Bild said.
German media reported that in North Rhine-Westphalia, Amri
had had contact with an Islamist network led by a man known as
Abu Walaa ("Father of Loyalty"), who was arrested with four
other men in November. They faced charges of setting up a
"jihadist network" that tried to recruit Muslims to go to Syria
and fight alongside Islamic State militants.
Abu Walaa, identified in German court papers as 32-year-old
Iraqi Ahmad Abdulaziz Abdullah A., is awaiting trial.
Bild also reported that Amri had expressed willingness to
carry out a suicide attack in online chats in jihadist forums.
Tunisian authorities estimate nearly 4,000 citizens have
left to fight overseas with jihadist groups, ranging from
middle-class students, army dropouts and a top-flight
professional footballer to young men from poor, rural areas.
(Additional reporting by Michael Nienaber in Berlin and Patrick
Markey in Algiers; Writing by David Stamp; Editing by Pravin