Twelve killed in ‘terror attack’ on Berlin market

Twelve killed in ‘terror attack’ on Berlin market

Twelve killed in ‘terror attack’ on Berlin market

Police and emergency workers stand next to a crashed truck at the site of an attack in the west of Berlin, Germany, on Dec 19. Reuters photo

A truck plowed into a crowded Christmas market in the German capital of Berlin on the evening on Dec. 19, killing 12 people and wounding 48 others, with the police treating the incident as an “intentional” and “probable terrorist attack.”

German police said Dec. 20 that the driver who rammed a truck into the crowd in the heart of the German capital did so intentionally and that they were investigating a suspected “terror attack.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters: “There is much we still do not know with sufficient certainty but we must, as things stand now, assume it was a terrorist attack.” 

Merkel added: “I know it would be especially hard for us all to bear if it were confirmed that the person who committed this act was someone who sought protection and asylum.” 

The truck struck the popular Christmas market outside the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church late Dec. 19, as tourists and locals were enjoying a traditional pre-Christmas evening near Berlin’s Zoo station.

“All police measures concerning the suspected terror attack at Breitscheidplatz are being taken with great speed and the necessary care,” the Berlin police said on Twitter.

Police detained a 23-year-old Pakistani man believed to have deliberately crashed the heavy vehicle loaded with steel beams into the festive market.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said Dec. 20 that the man arrested in connection with the attack had denied to police that he was involved.

The head of Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office Holger Münch said authorities were still not positive the suspect they had in custody was the driver of the truck, that they had not yet found a pistol believed to have been used to kill the truck’s passenger, and that it is not known overall how many people were involved.

For those reasons, he said, “we are naturally on high alert and are investigating in all directions,” adding that he could not rule out that suspects involved in the truck attack could still be at large.

A Polish man, thought to have been the truck’s registered driver, was found dead in the passenger seat, but police said he had not steered the vehicle. The truck was registered in Poland.

De Maiziere said authorities had “no doubt” that the fatal ramming of the busy Christmas market was an intentional attack.

The incident evoked memories of an attack in France in July when a Tunisian-born man drove a 19-ton truck along the beach front, mowing down people who had gathered to watch the fireworks on Bastille Day, killing 86 people. The attack was claimed by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

‘Blood and bodies everywhere’

One of the survivors, Australian Trisha O’Neill, said she was only meters from “this huge black truck speeding through the markets crushing so many people.” 

“I could hear screaming and then we all froze. Then suddenly people started to move and lift all the wreckage off people, trying to help whoever was there,” she told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

O’Neill said there was “blood and bodies everywhere.” 

The crash came less than a month after the U.S. State Department called for caution in markets and other public places across Europe, saying extremist groups including ISIL and al-Qaeda were focusing “on the upcoming holiday season and associated events.”

ISIL and al-Qaeda have both called on followers to use trucks in particular to attack crowds.

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump blamed Islamist terrorists, though it was unclear what that assessment was based on. He said Islamic extremists must be “eradicated from the face of the earth” and pledged to carry out that mission with all “freedom-loving partners.”