Merkel summons security leaders in wake of attack
‘There is still a lot that we don’t know about this act’
Chancellor Angela Merkel summoned Germany’s top security officials yesterday to discuss the government’s response to the deadly truck attack in Berlin that claimed at least 12 lives. Nearly 50 people were injured when a truck plowed into a popular Christmas market filled with tourists and locals outside the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church near Berlin’s Zoo station late Monday.
“There is still a lot that we don’t know about this act with sufficient certainty,” Merkel told reporters in Berlin, in her first personal statement following the incident. “But we must, as things stand, assume it was a terrorist attack.” Police, too, said that the truck appeared to have been driven intentionally. So far, no group has claimed responsibility. Authorities arrested a man about 2 kilometers (11/2 miles) from the crash site on suspicion of having been at the wheel of the truck.
Numerous German media reported that the suspect was a Pakistani citizen. Footage showed the suspect, his head covered in a white sheet, being pushed into a police car shortly after the attack. Berlin’s public radio station RBB-Inforadio cited security sources saying the man entered Germany on Dec 31, 2015. News agency dpa, also citing unnamed security sources, said he came to Germany as a refugee in February 2016. Berlin’s Tagesspiegel newspaper reported that the man was known to police for minor crimes. Merkel, who has been criticized for allowing in large numbers of migrants, addressed head-on the possibility that an asylum-seeker was responsible.
‘Making an effort’
“I know that it would be particularly hard for us all to bear if it were confirmed that a person committed this act who asked for protection and asylum in Germany,” Merkel said. “This would be particularly sickening for the many, many Germans who work to help refugees every day and for the many people who really need our help and are making an effort to integrate in our country.”
A spokesman for Berlin’s office for refugee affairs said police conducted a large-scale search overnight at a large shelter for asylumseekers at the city’s now-defunct Tempelhof airport. Four men in their late 20s were questioned but nobody was arrested, Sascha Langenbach told The Associated Press. Among the dead was a man in the truck, who succumbed as paramedics treated him, Berlin police spokesman Winfried Wenzel said. Police said later that the man was a Polish national, but didn’t give further details of who he was or what happened to him.
The Polish owner of the truck said he feared the vehicle may have been hijacked. Ariel Zurawski said he last spoke with the driver, his cousin, around noon, and the driver told him he was in Berlin and scheduled to unload yesterday morning. “They must have done something to my driver,” he told TVN24.
Under the cloak of help
Germany has not so far experienced any mass-casualty attacks by Islamic extremists, but has been increasingly wary since two attacks by asylum-seekers in the summer that were claimed by the Islamic State group. Five people were wounded in an ax rampage 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 Islamic extremism in the same weeklong period, contributed to tensions in Germany over the arrival last year of 890,000 migrants. Far-right groups and a nationalist party seized on Monday’s attack, blaming German Chancellor Angela Merkel for what had happened. “Under the cloak of helping people Merkel has completely surrendered our domestic security,” Frauke Petry, the co-chairwoman of the Alternative for Germany party, wrote.
Manfred Weber, a member of Merkel’s conservative bloc and leader of the European Parliament’s biggest political grouping, cautioned against sweeping verdicts but said it was important to ensure that extremists didn’t enter the country. The German government said Merkel spoke yesterday with President Barack Obama, who expressed his condolences. In Washington, White House National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said the United States was ready to help in the investigation and response. — AP
BERLIN: (From Left) The Mayor of Berlin Michael Mueller, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier attend a flower ceremony at the Kaiser-Wilhelm Memorial Church. — AP