It was no secret that Germany’s popular Christmas markets were seen as a potential attack point for terrorism this year, but despite the warnings and increased security measures, at least 12 people were killed and dozens injured when a truck went charging through the crowds in Berlin on Monday evening.
Within minutes the media was on the story, crafting up multiple theories on who was responsible and how the tragic event came to be. With all of the stories centering around “fake news” lately, at German Pulse we want to make the facts as clear as possible, and will keep this post updated with new information as it becomes available during the next several hours or days. If any ‘facts’ happen to change, we will correct this article and note the change.
The attack on the Berlin Christmas Market occurred shortly after 8pm local time when a driver drove a truck along the Budapester Street stretch of the market in central Berlin, traveling a distance of 250 feet through stalls and shoppers.
Current reports have the death toll at 12 and 48 others injured in the attack. Only half of the victims killed in the attack have been identified — all six were German.
A passenger identified as Lukasz Urban was found dead inside the truck, and is being seen as a victim of the attack. Urban was stabbed and shot before the attack occurred. The truck was traced back to a construction site in Poland. Ariel Zurawski, the owner of the transport company who’s truck was involved, identified the passenger and told broadcaster TVN that the photos showed the battered body, saying “it was really clear that he was fighting for his life”.
Update: Germany’s general prosecutor issued a statement on Tuesday, stating that the man originally detained as a leading suspect has been released from police custody, saying: “The investigations thus far have not produced urgent suspicion against the suspect”. The attacker is still on the loose.
Police arrested a suspected attacker after being tipped off by a witness of the attack who then claimed to have chased after him before police arrived to take the suspect into custody. It was confirmed that the man in custody is a 23-year-old Pakistani asylum seeker who arrived in Germany on December 31, 2015. During questioning, the suspect has denied any involvement in the incident.
Police are not certain that the man in custody is indeed the attacker, leading to continued efforts to find anyone who may have a connection to the attack.
Thomas de Maiziere, Germany’s interior minister, confirmed that the suspect has denied involvement and that police are doubtful that he was involved. A police spokesman told Die Welt: “We have got the wrong man, which means a new situation, because the actual attacker is still armed and free and can cause more damage.”
Update: Police have stated that they are now searching for a Tunisian refugee who’s papers were found inside of the truck used in the attack. Thomas de Maizière, backed up the claims and said that a search was underway across Europe’s border-free zones. Reports on the man’s identity, which has been broadcast by numerous media outlets, was not confirmed in any official statements.
It is still unclear whether the attack was carried out as a lone wolf incident or a more orchestrated terror attack.
Update: The Islamic State (IS) released a statement late Tuesday via their Amaq News Agency that claimed the attacker was a “soldier” responding to the groups call to target nations such as Germany. This statement does not indicate the level of involvement the terrorism group had in orchestrating the attack, as IS has used similar claims for various other lone wolf attacks in the past.
Iraqi Popular Mobilization Force officials are claiming that the Islamic State has taken credit for the attack, but the terror group’s online propaganda wing, the Amaq News Agency, has not yet claimed responsibility.
Police raided the Tempelhof Airport hangar, which has been turned into a makeshift refugee shelter, at 4am, looking for anyone who may have been involved or knew more details on the planning of the attack. The hangar is where the suspected driver lives. Up to 250 officers were involved in the early morning raid according to a report from the dpa news agency. Spokesman for Berlin’s office for refugee affairs, Sascha Langenbach, started that no arrests were made, but four men in their late 20s were singled out and questioned by police.
Political Leaders Respond
German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke on the attack at 11am, saying:
“An entire country is united with the victims and their survivors in deep mourning. We all hope and many of us pray for them. That they can find comfort and support. That they can survive after this terrible attack.
‘I know that it is particularly hard to bear for all of us, that a person has committed this act who has asked for protection and asylum in Germany.
‘Millions of people have been asking: How can we live with it that at a Christmas market – a place of joy – a killer brings death to so many people? I have no simple answer to this question.
‘This act will be punished as severely as our laws allow. We have to assume, according to the latest news, that this was a terrorist attack.
Merkel, along with some of Germany’s top government officials, visited the site of the attack to lay flowers and pay their respect to the victims.
President Barack Obama called Merkel early Tuesday morning to express his condolences and ensure that she has the full support of the U.S. in investigating the case.
US President-elect Donald Trump tweeted his response: “Today there were terror attacks in Turkey, Switzerland and Germany – and it is only getting worse. The civilized world must change thinking!” Trump issued a longer response off Twitter, taking a hard stand against Islamic terrorists. “ISIS and other Islamic terrorists continuously slaughter Christians in their communities and places of worship as part of their global jihad. These terrorists and their regional and worldwide networks must be eradicated from the face of the earth, a mission we will carry out with all freedom-loving partners.”
Today there were terror attacks in Turkey, Switzerland and Germany – and it is only getting worse. The civilized world must change thinking!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 19, 2016
Russian President Vladimir Putin sent his own condolences via the Kremlin’s website, saying: “This crime against peaceful civilians is shocking in its savage cynicism.”
Dr Frauke Petra, leader of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, followed in Trump’s strong stance by warning that Germany is “no longer safe” and that “horror has arrived”. After wishing the victims and their families well, she went on to state:
“We must not be under any illusions. The milieu in which such deeds can thrive has been created through negligence in the past year. This case is not an isolated incident. That teaches us the look abroad, mainly to France. The Christmas market was not a random target. It’s not just an attack on our freedom and our way of life, but also for our Christian tradition. On the immigration issue Germany is a politically divided country. The terror will unite us.
As we learn new factual information, we will update this post with any changes to the story