12 dead after truck driven into Christmas market in Berlin
At least 48 injured, police arrest man and confirm second man found dead in truck cab
The incident took place at 8pm at the market around the Kaiser Wilhelm memorial church in the western city centre, on the pedestrianised Breitscheidplatz square.
“What we are seeing here is dramatic,” said Michael Muller, Berlin’s mayor and state governor at the scene.
“Berlin is doing everything possible to deal with this situation - but it is depressing that we are experiencing something similar to our friends in other cities.”
Eye-witnesses at the market reported hearing a loud bang as the black articulated truck left the Budapesterstrasse and ploughed into the narrow market walkways.
It stopped short of the market Christmas tree beside the iconic ruined church tower, with its windshield shattered and demolished wooden cabins in its wake.
Minutes after the attack the entire area was evacuated, bringing Berlin’s western city centre to a standstill at one of its busiest times of year.
Police arrested one man suspected of involvement in the attack a short distance away and confirmed that a second man was found dead in the passenger seat of the truck’s cabin.
According to Polish media, the truck was registered to a transport company in Gryfino, near the German border. The truck was en route from Italy and the wife of the driver said she last had contact with her husband at 4pm.
Ariel Zurawski, the owner of the transport company, told Poland’s TVN news channel the driver was his cousin, a driver of 15 years’ experience, and he could vouch for his character.
He claimed the driver of the truck in Berlin was not his cousin.
By late evening, as emergency crews treated injured at the scene, the popular market near the zoo was empty except for police patrolling with machine guns.
At 10.20pm local time, the festive market lights were switched off, as public transport and all other traffic was diverted from the scene.
Germany’s federal prosecutor has stepped in to take over the investigation of an incident with echoes of the July 14th truck attack in Nice, when a truck raced down the promenade, killing 84 people and injuring over 150.
After several near terror misses, and a series of attacks during the summer, German authorities have been braced for months for a serious, fatal incident.
Police quoted by the DPA press agency said they assumed they were dealing with a terrorist attack and urged locals over social media: “Please help us. Stay at home and don’t spread rumours.”
Senior German politicians refused to be drawn on the motives behind the attack on Monday night.
Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke with the city’s mayor, Mr Muller, by phone, while German federal interior minister Thomas de Maizière avoided the term “terror attack” in an initial statement.
“My thoughts are with the relatives of the victims and with the injured of this terrible incident,” he said.
His Berlin state colleague Andreas Geisel said in a statement that authorities “still know nothing about the background” of the incident.
If confirmed as a terror attack, it will shake already strained public confidence in Germany, almost a year after over 130 women were sexually assaulted at New Year’s Eve celebrations in Cologne by men, including non-nationals and some asylum seekers.
Series of attacks
In the summer, Bavaria was rocked by a series of bomb, gun and knife attacks, with some perpetrators revealed as asylum seekers linked to Islamist extremist groups.
On Monday, police in the southwestern city of Ludwighshafen confirmed they had a 12 year-old German-Iraqi boy in custody suspected of trying twice to detonate explosive devices, including one at a city Christmas market.
Even before the details of the latest attack were known, the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) - a long-time critic of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s refugee policy - wasted no time in blaming the German leader.
An hour after the Berlin incident, senior AfD politician Marcus Pretzell attracted fury online for tweeting: “When will this hypocrisy finally end? These are Merkel’s dead.”
Meanwhile, Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan said he was “horrified by the loss of life in Berlin”.
The Department of Foreign Affairs urged Irish people in Berlin to contact their loved ones to confirm they were safe and said anyone with concerns could call 01-4082000.