BERLIN – Islamic State claimed responsibility for Monday’s attack on a Christmas market in Germany’s capital, in which a truck plowed into crowds of shoppers, killing 12 and wounding 48.
Police said Pakistani asylum- seeker Naved B., 23, who was arrested on Monday evening on suspicion of driving the truck, was released yesterday for insufficient evidence.
A senior police chief told the German daily Die Welt: “We have the wrong man. The perpetrator is armed, at large and can cause further damage.”
Suspected Berlin Christmas market attacker released
The Chief Federal Prosecutor’s Office said in a statement that it had been unable to prove that the suspect had been in the cabin of the truck at the time of the attack, and that he had denied any involvement.
The Islamic State’s AMAQ news agency quoted the terrorist group yesterday, saying, “The executor of the operation in Berlin is a soldier of the Islamic State, and he executed the operation in response to calls to target nationals of the coalition countries.”
German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said that investigators are following several leads into the Christmas market attack.
“We just heard about the supposed claim of responsibility by this so-called Islamic State that is in fact a gang of terrorists,” de Maiziere told the ARD station. “Nobody will rest until the perpetrator or the perpetrators are caught.”
He added that there is no doubt the Berlin incident was an attack, but the motive remains unclear.
Six of the 12 dead were Germans. Two women were missing – one from Israel and one from Italy.
News of the arrest of the Pakistani led politicians in Germany and beyond to demand a crackdown on immigration, but Chancellor Angela Merkel urged caution.
“There is much we still do not know with sufficient certainty, but we must, as things stand now, assume it was a terrorist attack,” she told reporters on Tuesday. “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.” Merkel joined hundreds of mourners on Tuesday evening at a memorial service at the church near the site of the attack. Her spokesman said she had spoken with the leaders of seven European countries and also with US President Barack Obama, who all assured her of their support for Germany.
The attack fueled immediate demands for a change to Merkel’s immigration policies, under which more than a million people fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere have arrived in Germany this year and last.
“We must say that we are in a state of war, although some people, who always only want to see good, do not want to see this,” said Klaus Bouillon, interior minister of the state of Saarland and a member of Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU).
Horst Seehofer, leader of the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, said: “We owe it to the victims, to those affected and to the whole population to rethink our immigration and security policy and to change it.”
The incident evoked memories of an attack in July in Nice, France, 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. That attack was also claimed by Islamic State.
On Tuesday morning, investigators removed the black truck from the site for forensic examination. People left flowers at the scene together with notes, one of which read: “Keep on living, Berliners!” One woman was crying as she stopped by the flowers.
The Brandenburg Gate was lit up in the German colors in tribute to the victims, and all Berlin radio stations stopped their programs at 6 p.m. for a minute of silence.
Merkel said Germans must not be cowed by the attack: “We do not want to live paralyzed by the fear of evil.
Even if it is difficult in these hours, we will find the strength for the life we want to live in Germany – free, together and open.”
Security officials in Germany and Europe have warned for years that Christmas markets could present an easy target for terrorist attacks. In 2000, an al-Qaida plan to bomb the Strasbourg Christmas market on New Year’s Eve was foiled.
There were no concrete barricades at the Berlin Christmas market, as have been installed at a similar venue in Britain. Some German cities had already prepared for a similar scenario.
In Kassel, for example, concrete barriers were dispersed throughout the city. In Nuremberg, police closed the driveways to the famous Christkindlesmarkt with squad cars and barriers.
Other European countries said they are reviewing security.
Austrian Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka called for biometric and fingerprint checks to be introduced along the Balkan route used by many migrants arriving in Europe, in order to better control foreign jihadist fighters’ movements.
London police said they are reviewing their plans for protecting public events over the holiday period.