Merkel says asylum-seeker may have
carried out Christmas market attack
Send a link to a friend
[December 20, 2016]
By Michelle Martin and Sabine Siebold
BERLIN (Reuters) - Investigators said they
suspect the driver of a truck that plowed into a crowd at a Berlin
Christmas market, killing 12 people and injuring 48, did so in a
deliberate terrorist attack, and Chancellor Angela Merkel said he may
have been an asylum-seeker.
The truck crashed into people gathered on Monday evening around wooden
huts serving mulled wine and sausages at the foot of the Kaiser Wilhelm
memorial church - left as a ruin after World War Two - in the heart of
former West Berlin.
A German security source said the suspect was a 23-year-old migrant from
Pakistan known to police for committing minor offences. The source said
the man had been staying at a refugee accommodation center in the now
defunct Tempelhof airport.
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
She 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 incident evoked memories of an attack in Nice, France in July when a
Tunisian-born man drove a 19-tonne truck along the beach front, mowing
down people who had gathered to watch the fireworks on Bastille Day,
killing 86 people. That was claimed by Islamic State.
If a migrant link is confirmed, it could further sour sentiment towards
asylum-seekers in Germany, where more than a million people fleeing
conflict and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere have
arrived this year and last.
The record influx has hit Merkel's popularity ratings and boosted
support for the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD). Senior AfD
member Marcus Pretzell blamed Merkel for the attack on Twitter.
AfD leader Frauke Petry said Germany was no longer safe and "radical
Islamic terrorism has struck in the heart of Germany".
Slovakia's Prime Minister Robert Fico said the attack would change
European Union member states' perception of migration.
"The facts are simple: a migrant who arrived to Germany in February 2016
and got refugee status ... is now interrogated as a suspect responsible
for this heinous, repugnant crime," Fico said, without specifying the
source of his information.
"This attack will undoubtedly again significantly change the attitude of
a number of EU member states towards migration as such," he said. "I
think that the cup of patience is beginning to spill over and Europe's
public will rightfully expect rather stronger measures."
DRIVER CHASED DOWN
Police said the man suspected of steering the truck had fled the crash
scene and was later arrested.
Newspaper Die Welt said he had jumped out of the driver's cab and run
down the street towards the Tiergarten, a vast park in central Berlin.
It said several witnesses phoned police to inform them, including one
who chased the suspect while on the phone, constantly updating officials
on his whereabouts.
On Tuesday morning, investigators removed the black truck from the site
for a forensic examination. People left flowers at the scene and notes,
one of which read: "Keep on living, Berliners!" One woman was crying as
she stopped by the flowers.
Berlin police are investigating leads that the truck had been stolen
from a construction site in Poland. They said a Polish man was found
dead inside the vehicle but added he was not in control of it.
German magazine Focus cited Karl-Heinz Schroeter, interior minister of
the state of Brandenburg, as saying one of people found dead at the
scene was shot, and that was probably the Pole.
[to top of second column]
German Chancellor Angela Merkel addresses the media in Berlin,
Germany, December 20, 2016, one day after a truck ploughed into a
crowded Christmas market in the German capital. REUTERS/Hannibal
Bild newspaper cited security sources as saying the suspect was
named Naved B. and had arrived in Germany a year ago. In legal cases
German officials routinely withhold the full name of suspects, using
only an initial.
Local broadcaster rbb cited security sources as saying the man came
to Germany via Passau, a city on the Austrian border, on Dec. 31,
Die Welt said police special forces stormed a hangar at Berlin's
defunct Tempelhof airport at around 4 a.m. (0300 GMT). It said,
without citing its sources, that the arrested man was registered
A refugee there who gave his name only as Ahmed told Reuters
security guards had told him there was a raid at around 4 a.m.
Prosecutors declined to immediately comment on the report.
Stephan Mayer, a senior member of the Christian Social Union - the
Bavarian sister party to Merkel's Christian Democrats, told
broadcaster ZDF it was necessary to ensure that there were no
Austrian Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka said on ORF radio he had
told the heads of Austria's regional police forces to intensify
He called for biometric and fingerprint checks to be introduced
along the Balkan route traveled by many migrants arriving in Europe,
in order to better control foreign jihadist fighters' movements.
London police said they were reviewing their plans for protecting
public events over the festive period after the Berlin attack and
the assassination of Russia's ambassador to Turkey on Monday.
Flags will be hung at half-mast around Germany on Tuesday and Berlin
Christmas markets were closed for the day out of respect.
Dresden tourist information service said authorities had erected
concrete blocks around the Striezelmarkt, one of Germany's oldest
Christmas Markets, to increase security.
Christmas markets selling ornate, often hand-crafted decorations,
seasonal foods and hot wine are a beloved tradition in Germany.
Manfred Weber, head of the center-right European People's Party,
said: "It's not an attack on a country; it's an attack on our way of
life, on the free society in which we are allowed to live."
(Reporting by Michelle Martin, Caroline Copley, Joseph Nasr, Emma
Thomasson and Paul Carrel in Berlin; additional reporting by Shadia
Nasralla in Vienna; Writing by Michelle Martin; Editing by Mark
[© 2016 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2016 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.