Germany on edge after truck plows into Berlin Christmas market, killing 12

At least 12 people have been killed and dozens injured after a truck rammed into a Berlin Christmas market. Authorities are investigating the incident as a possible terrorist attack.

A truck slammed into a crowded Christmas market in central Berlin on Monday night, killing at least 12 people and wounding 48, in what authorities are investigating as a possible terrorist attack.

The passenger in the truck died in the crash and the suspected driver was arrested near the scene, police said.

Justice Minister Heiko Maas said investigation of the case has been handed over to federal prosecutors, who handle terrorism cases. Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere told ARD television that authorities were still investigating and did not want to use the word attack, but signs pointed to everyone's worst fears.

"I don't want to use the word 'attack' yet at the moment, although a lot points to it," de Maiziere said. "There is a psychological effect in the whole country of the choice of words here, and we want to be very, very cautious and operate close to the actual investigation results, not with speculation."

Business | 11.11.2016

The Scania-brand truck plowed up to 80 meters (260 feet) into the Christmas market near the iconic Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, along the Kurfürstendamm shopping mile, at around 8:30 p.m. local time as people were getting off work in the busy shopping district just days before Christmas.

DW correspondent Kyra Levine in Berlin reported that ambulances took the wounded away and streets were closed off, turning a normally bustling area into an eerily calm scene of empty streets as police urged people to stay home.

The truck had Polish license plates and was carrying steel beams. The dead passenger in the truck has been identified as a Polish national, according to police. The Polish owner of the trucking company, Ariel Zurawski, told TVN 24 television that his cousin worked for him and that he couldn't be reached since around 4 p.m. local time.

Zurawski told the broadcaster there was no way his cousin carried out the attack. "Something must have been done to him," he said.

The nationality of the suspected driver in custody is still unknown, but German news agencies "Die Welt" and dpa cited security sources as saying the arrested man was an asylum seeker from Pakistan or Afghanistan. They said he had arrived in Germany in February.

An employee of Zurawski, who spoke to DW on condition of anonymity, said the truck was on its way from Poland to deliver steel to a ThyssenKrupp site in Italy before they lost contact with the assigned driver. According to the shipping company's GPS tracking, from 5 p.m. the truck was at a standstill in the northern Berlin suburb of Wedding for about two hours.

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Berlin attack: an overview in pictures

Police search for attacker

Police on Wednesday intensified a manhunt for the driver of a truck that plowed through a Christmas market crowd in a busy shopping district in Berlin on Monday night. The militant "Islamic State" group claimed responsibility for the assault. Berlin police chief Klaus Kandt urged people to be "particularly​ vigilant."

Berlin attack: an overview in pictures

Searching for suspects

Police initially detained a 23-year-old asylum-seeker from Pakistan in connection with the attack. Authorities released him on Tuesday, citing a lack of evidence. Berlin police admitted they may have apprehended the wrong suspect. The driver of the truck is believed to be at large. Authorities said one or more fugitives were likely armed and dangerous.

Berlin attack: an overview in pictures

City in shock

Many gathered to place candles, roses and signs near the site of the attack. Memorials to the victims arose just hours after a truck plowed into a Christmas market in the heart of the city. Police remain on high alert in Berlin - and across the rest of Germany.

Berlin attack: an overview in pictures

'This was a terrorist attack'

Condolences have been pouring in from all over the world. "A country is united in mourning," Chancellor Angela Merkel told the nation on Tuesday morning. Calling it a terrorist attack for the first time, Merkel described the incident as "cruel and beyond comprehension."

Berlin attack: an overview in pictures

Heightened police presence

Heavily armed police patrol the entrance to a Christmas market in the German city of Hamburg. The holiday markets in Germany remained open following the attack in Berlin, but with heavier police presence and tighter security measures.

Berlin attack: an overview in pictures

What happened

A truck carrying steel beams drove straight into a crowded Christmas market in a popular shopping area in Berlin late Monday evening. This image is reminiscent of a similar attack in Nice last July, in which 86 people were killed when a man drove a truck through a crowd. In response to the Berlin tragedy, France has beefed up security at its own Christmas markets.

Berlin attack: an overview in pictures

The victims

Police have confirmed 12 deaths so far - six of whom were German nationals. Another 49 people were wounded, some seriously. Rescue workers set up emergency tents on site after the attack. Many of the wounded have been able to leave the hospital.

Berlin attack: an overview in pictures

Where it happened

Breitscheidplatz, the square in front of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, is a popular tourist destination. To the northeast of Breitscheidplatz is the Berlin Bahnhof Zoo, and to the south is the famous Kurfürstendamm shopping street.

Berlin attack: an overview in pictures

Clean-up efforts

"Our investigators are working on the assumption that the truck was deliberately steered into the crowd at the Christmas market," police said on Twitter on Tuesday. The truck has meanwhile been towed and taken in for a forensic examination.

Europe on high alert

The likely attack, one of biggest to hit Germany in more than a decade, comes as Europe is on high alert following a string of terrorist attacks in France and Belgium over the past year. Although no group has claimed responsibility for the incident in Berlin, the so-called "Islamic State" (IS) has previously called on its followers to carry out terror strikes in Europe.

"Even though IS is now greatly weakened as an organization it is still able to inspire terrorists in the West," Max Abrahms, a terrorism theorist at Northeastern University in the United States, told DW. "Everyday items like cars and trucks can be very lethal, making counterterrorism extraordinarily difficult."

The apparent terrorist attack comes after Germany has taken in more than 1 million refugees over the past two years, raising questions over the country's ability to handle such a large number of newcomers. The influx has sparked security concerns and forced the government to heighten security measures ahead of federal elections in 2017, in which Chancellor Angela Merkel's immigration policies are expected to be a central issue.

German authorities have foiled several planned attacks recently, arresting dozens of alleged Islamists. In early October, a Syrian refugee was detained for allegedly planning to bomb a Berlin airport. The suspect, Jaber Albakr, later killed himself while in custody. 

In July, a suspected 17-year-old Afghan refugee wielding an ax and knife wounded five people on a train in Bavaria before being shot dead by police. Days later, a Syrian asylum seeker claiming to act in the name of IS blew himself up at a festival in the southern city of Ansbach, wounding 15 people.

Around the same time, an 18-year-old German-Iranian gunman killed nine people at a shopping mall in Munich before committing suicide. Authorities said the young man, who had planned the attack for a year, was "obsessed" with mass murders and had no links to the IS group.

Earlier this month, a 12-year-old was arrested for allegedly assembling a homemade nail bomb he tried to explode at a Christmas market in the western city of Ludwigshafen.

Chronology: Terror plots in Germany

Leipzig, October 2016

Police in Leipzig arrested 22-year-old Syrian refugee Jaber al-Bakr after a two-day manhunt following the discovery of explosives and other bomb-making equipment at his apartment in Chemnitz. He was suspected of plotting to attack a Berlin airport. Two days later, he hanged himself in his prison cell.

Chronology: Terror plots in Germany

Ansbach, July 2016

In July, the "Islamic State" (IS) claimed responsibility for two attacks carried out by asylum seekers. 15 people were injured in a crowded wine bar next to the entrance to a music festival in the Bavarian town of Ansbach after a rejected Syrian asylum seeker detonated an explosive device. The man killed himself in the attack.

Chronology: Terror plots in Germany

Würzburg, July 2016

A 17-year-old asylum seeker wielding an axe and a knife went on a rampage on a regional train near Würzburg, seriously injuring four members of a tourist family from Hong Kong and a passer-by. The attacker was shot dead by police. German authorities said the teenager was believed to be a "lone wolf" inspired by the IS, but without being a member of the network.

Chronology: Terror plots in Germany

Düsseldorf, May 2016

Three suspected members of the "Islamic State" terror network were arrested in the German states of North Rhine-Westphalia, Brandenburg and Baden Württemberg. Authorities say two of the men planned to blow themselves up in downtown Düsseldorf, while the other attacker and a fourth jihadist arrested in France planned to target pedestrians with guns and explosive devices.

Chronology: Terror plots in Germany

Essen, April 2016

Police arrested three people over a bomb blast that injured three people in a Sikh temple in Essen. The bomb detonated after a wedding party, blowing out windows and destroying a part of the building's exterior. A 16-year-old suspect turned himself in after police showed footage of the attack from a surveillance camera and special police units arrested another young suspect in his parents' home.

Chronology: Terror plots in Germany

Hanover, February 2016

German-Moroccan Safia S. is charged with stabbing a police officer at the main train station in the northern city of Hanover. The 16-year-old girl is suspected of having been "motivated by members of the Islamic State group in Syria to commit this act," chief prosecutor Simon Heinrichs said.

Chronology: Terror plots in Germany

Berlin, February 2016

In separate raids across the country, police arrested three Algerians suspected of links to the "Islamic State" militant group and of having planned a terrorist attack in Berlin. The Berlin prosecutor's office said prosecutors were aware of a "concrete" plan to target the capital.

Chronology: Terror plots in Germany

Oberursel, April 2015

The Eschborn-Frankfurt City loop bike race was called off after German police discovered it may have been the target of an Islamist terror attack. A 35-year-old German with a Turkish background and his 34-year-old wife were arrested on suspicion of planning the attack. Police found bomb-making materials in their home near the bike route.

For a detailed timeline of events, read the archive of DW's live news ticker below.

0056 UTC - The death toll from the truck attack has risen from nine to 12, police said. There are 48 people wounded, some severely.

0025 UTC - German news outlets "Die Welt" and dpa, citing security sources, reported that a man suspected to be the driver who was taken into custody earlier is a registered refugee from Afghanistan or Pakistan. The man reportedly arrived in Germany in February and used several names.

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00:58 mins.
Web-videos | 19.12.2016

Possible attack in Berlin

2331 UTC - US President-elect Donald Trump in a statement described a "horrifying terror attack" on innocent civilians celebrating Christmas.  "ISIS ("Islamic State") and other Islamist terrorists continually 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," the statement said. German authorities have so far not described the attack as an act of terrorism, nor has any group claimed responsibility. 

2327 UTC - Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere told ARD television that much was still unclear about the reason for the truck crash, but hinted that it may have been an attack. "I don't want to use the word 'attack' yet although a lot points to that," de Maiziere said. "There is a psychological effect in the whole country of the choice of words here, and we want to be very, very cautious and operate close to the actual investigation results, not with speculation."

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00:22 mins.
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Mayor Müller: Everything under control

2313 UTC - The White House condemned what it said "appears to have been a terrorist attack." German authorities have so far refrained from stating whether the incident was a terrorist attack. 

2312 UTC - France has increased security at its Christmas markets, the interior ministry said.

2305 UTC - Police said a suspicious item found in the vicinity was only a sleeping bag. 

2303 UTC - Police confirm the truck had a Polish license plate and was carrying steel beams.

2245 UTC - The dead passenger in the truck was Polish, police said. The Polish owner of the truck, Ariel Zurawski, told TVN 24 television that his cousin worked for him and that he couldn't be reached since 4 p.m. local time. He told the broadcaster there was no way his cousin carried out the attack. "Something must have been done to him," Zurawski said. The nationality of the suspected driver in custody is still unknown.

2218 UTC - DW's Brigitta Schülke reporting live from central Berlin speaks to a Syrian refugee: "I escaped war, felt secure. Can't believe that it happened in Berlin."

2214 UTC - Police tell people to avoid nearby Rankestrasse after the discovery of a suspicious item there.

The Scania truck was owned by a Polish trucking company.

2209 UTC - France announces it will beef up security at Christmas markets after the Berlin truck crash event.

2207 UTC - DW's Kyra Levine has more images from the cordoned-off section of the Christmas market - @KyraGermany:

2204 UTC - Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church will hold a memorial service tomorrow at 6pm local time (1700 UTC).

2202 UTC - The Berlin police department will hold a new conference tomorrow at 1pm local time (1200 UTC) with updates on the investigation.

2156 UTC - Berlin's BVG public transport system reports cancelations on several bus lines following the incident.

2150 UTC - DW's Kyra Levine is tweeting live from the scene, where police have cordoned off large sections of the Christmas market - @KyraGermany:

2144 UTC - German daily newspaper "Bild" reports that police are investigating whether the truck might have been stolen.

2138 UTC - Berlin Police tweet phone number to check on missing persons and related questions: 030/54023 111

2133 UTC - Berlin State Interior Minister says the investigation into the truck crash is still unfolding, stressing that it could be an accident.

2129 UTC - Public transport on Berlin subway has reportedly not been affected by the events, despite two underground stations being located nearby.

2118 UTC - French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault expresses his "complete solidarity with our German friends."

2117 UTC - Police are asking the public to refrain from sharing videos online from the scene of the attack.

2111 UTC - The investigation has been referred to Germany's Federal Prosecutor General.

2109 UTC - The truck that ploughed into the crowd in Berlin is reported to have a Polish license plate.

2101 UTC - German government spokesman Steffen Seibert tweets: "We mourn the dead and hope that the many wounded can be saved."

2058 UTC - German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere has pledged federal police will provide "any necessary assistance."

2054 UTC - Deutsche Welle reporter Kyra Levine is tweeting live from the scene. - @KyraGermany

2052 UTC - German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been briefed on the situation by Interior Ministry officials.

2051 UTC - Berlin Mayor Michael Müller says the situation is under control.

2049 UTC - German news channel N24 says the person in the passenger seat of the attack truck was reportedly killed.

2046 UTC - Suspect under arrest is alleged to be the driver of the truck; however, police have not confirmed this.

2043 UTC - Facebook has activated its safety check feature.

2036 UTC - A suspect has been arrested according to a police source.

2035 UTC - Germany's dpa news agency reports the Scania-brand truck managed to plough up to 80 meters (260 feet) into the crowd at the Christmas market.

2033 UTC - Police have asked for people to stay indoors to assist with unfolding investigation.

2006 UTC - Berlin police have confirmed tally of nine fatalities.

cw, ss/cmk, rc (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters, epd)

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