Assault comes at a sensitive time for Merkel who is running for a fourth term in 2017
German police step up search for truck driver who killed 12 people at a Christmas market in Berlin.
German police on Wednesday stepped up their hunt for the driver of a truck that plowed through a Berlin Christmas market, in a deadly assault claimed by the Islamic State group.
Police initially arrested a 23-year-old Pakistani asylum seeker, who was released late on Tuesday for lack of evidence, prompting fears of a killer on the loose and further rattling nerves in a shocked country.
“We can’t rule out that the perpetrator is on the run,” Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said.
Twelve people were killed when the Polish-registered truck, laden with steel beams, slammed into the crowded holiday market on Monday, smashing wooden stalls and crushing victims.
Twenty-four remained in hospital, 14 of whom were seriously injured, de Maiziere said.
The scenes instantly revived nightmarish memories of the July 14 truck assault in the French Riviera city of Nice, where 86 people were killed by a Tunisian extremist.
The IS-linked Amaq news agency said “a soldier of the Islamic State” carried out the carnage. But there was no evidence to back the claim, nor was the perpetrator identified.
Germany is part of a US-led coalition fighting IS in Iraq and Syria.
The attack comes at a sensitive time for Chancellor Angela Merkel who is running for a fourth term in 2017 but has faced strong criticism over her decision last year to open the country’s borders to refugees.
Nation in mourning
Merkel visited the scene of the carnage for a minute’s silence on Tuesday and then joined a memorial service in the adjacent Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church.
Mourners placed flowers and candles at the site while German flags flew at half-mast.
Berlin’s landmark Brandenburg Gate was lit in the national colors in honor of the victims, and foreign leaders, led by US President Barack Obama, sent their condolences.
Europe has been on high alert for most of 2016, with bloody jihadist attacks striking Paris since last year and Brussels.
In London, roads in front of Buckingham Palace will be shut during the daily Changing of the Guard ceremony starting on Wednesday following the attack, British police said.
The military ceremony regularly brings crowds of tourists outside the gates of Queen Elizabeth II’s residence.
Police officers patrol in Dortmund, Germany, on Tuesday. A truck ran into a crowded market in Berlin the evening before and killed 12 people.