Merkel says Christmas Market Incident a ‘Terrorist Act’

It would be “sickening” if the driver of a lorry that hit crowd was a refugee, German chancellor says.

Germany’s chancellor called the Berlin Christmas market carnage a “terrorist act” most likely committed by an asylum seeker who drove a lorry into people, killing at least 12 and wounding dozens of others.

Angela Merkel said on Tuesday, a day after the event in he German capital, that it was “a very difficult day for Germany”.

“We have to assume that this was a terrorist attack,” Merkel said.

Merkel said it would be “particularly sickening” if the attacker was in fact a refugee.

READ MORE: Lorry ploughs into Christmas market crowd in Berlin

“Our investigators are working on the assumption that the truck was intentionally driven into the crowd at the Christmas market on Breitscheidplatz,” Berlin police said.

Police detained a 23-year-old from Pakistan, a German security source told Reuters news agency, as a suspect.

He arrived in Germany in February, was known to police for minor criminal offences, and used several names, said the source. He was staying at a refugee hostel.

However, later on Tuesday officials said they were unable to confirm if the man they had detained was really the suspected driver.

The lorry struck the popular Christmas market outside the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church late on Monday as tourists and locals enjoyed a traditional pre-Christmas evening near Berlin’s Zoo station.

The interior ministry said Christmas markets in Berlin will remain closed on Tuesday out of respect for the victims.

Earlier, Germany’s top security official refrained from pointing to an intentional act but said evidence pointed in that direction.

Witness Jan Hollitzer told Al Jazeera the truck drove about 50 metres through the market.

Recalling the scene, Hollitzer said the vehicle was travelling “very fast”.

“It was really horrible. There were many casualties and injured people,” he said. “I saw people hit by the truck and also people under the truck … I can tell you those are images you don’t want to see.”

Among the dead was a man in the lorry, who died as paramedics treated him, Berlin police spokesman Winfried Wenzel said. Police identified him as a Polish national, but didn’t give further details.

The lorry had a Polish licence plate, police said. The Polish owner of the truck said he feared the vehicle may have been hijacked.

The interior minister of the German state of Saarland said on Tuesday that Germany is in a state of war.

“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,” Klaus Bouillon told German broadcaster SR.

The attack came less than a month after the US State Department called for caution in markets and other public places across Europe, saying armed groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) and al-Qaeda were focusing “on the upcoming holiday season and associated events”.

ISIL and al-Qaeda have both called on followers to use lorries in particular to attack crowds

On July 14, a lorry slammed into Bastille Day revellers in the southern French city of Nice, killing 86 people. ISIL claimed responsibility for that attack, which was carried out by a Tunisian living in France.

Germany has not experienced any mass-casualty attacks by armed groups, but has been increasingly wary since two attacks by asylum seekers in the summer were claimed by ISIL.

Five people were wounded in an axe attack on a train near Wuerzburg and 15 in a bombing outside a bar in Ansbach, both in the southern state of Bavaria. Both attackers were killed.

Those attacks, and two others unrelated to armed groups in the same week-long period, contributed to tensions in Germany over the arrival last year of 890,000 refugees.

Far-right party AfD, which has been critical of Merkel’s immigration policy, has gained support in recent regional elections.

Horst Seehofer, leader of Bavaria’s Christian Social Union – the sister party to Merkel’s Christian Democrats  – called for a review of Germany’s security policies.

“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,” said Seehofer.


Reprinted with permission from Al Jazeera