TRUCK RAMS INTO BERLIN CHRISTMAS MARKET
White House, Trump condemn apparent terrorist attack; suspected driver is arrested nearby
BERLIN» A truck rammed into a crowded Christmas market in central Berlin on Monday evening, killing 12 people and injuring about 50 as it tore through tables and wooden stands. Police said a suspect believed to be the driver was arrested nearby and a passenger died as paramedics were treating him.
The popular Christmas market outside the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church was filled with a mix of tourists and locals when the large Scania truck hurtled into it. Germany’s top security official said initial evidence pointed to an intentional act, and the White House condemned “what appears to have been a terrorist attack.”
Police said early Tuesday that 48 people were in hospitals, some of them with serious injuries.
President-elect Donald Trump blamed Islamist terrorists but offered nothing to back up his claim. He said Islamists and the Islamic State slaughter Christians in their communities and places of worship as part of their global jihad.
Trump said Islamic extremists must be “eradicated from the face of the Earth” and pledged to carry out that mission with all “freedom-loving partners.”
Mike Fox, visiting from Birmingham, England, said the truck missed him by about 3 yards. Fox said he helped people who appeared to have broken limbs, and that others were trapped under Christmas stands.
“You do what you can to help who you can, really. It happened so fast that there was nothing we could do to stop it — if we’d tried to stop it we would have been crushed,” Fox said.
The truck, loaded with steel beams, came to a halt on a sidewalk on one side of the market. It had just rammed a large stand called “Fascination Christmas,” tearing off one side and knocking down a large Christmas tree. The nine-foot tree lay in the street, red and golden ornamental balls still attached to its limbs and a golden star at the top.
The crash came less than a month after the U.S. State Department called for caution in markets and other public places across Europe, saying extremist groups including Islamic State and al-Qaeda were focusing “on the upcoming holiday season and associated events.”
The Islamic State and al-Qaeda have called on followers to use trucks in particular to attack crowds. On July 14, a truck plowed into Bastille Day revelers in the southern French city of Nice, killing 86 people. Islamic State claimed responsibility for that attack, which was carried out by a Tunisian living in France.
Following that attack there were calls to block off and better protect high-profile public gatherings. There were no barriers around the Christmas market Monday.
After the attack, dozens of ambulances lined the streets waiting to evacuate people, and heavily armed police patrolled.
Among the dead was a passenger in the truck, who succumbed as paramedics treated him, Berlin police spokesman Winfried Wenzel said. Police said later that the man was Polish but didn’t give further details of who he was or what happened to him.
A suspect believed to be the driver was picked up about 1½ miles away, near the Victory Column monument. He was being interrogated, Wenzel said.
The truck was registered in Poland, and police said it was believed to be stolen from a building site there. They didn’t give a specific location.
The Polish owner of the truck said he feared the vehicle, driven by his cousin, may have been hijacked. Ariel Zurawski said he last spoke with the driver around noon, and the driver told him he was in Berlin and scheduled to unload Tuesday morning. “They must have done something to my driver,” he told TVN24.
This truck crashed into a Christmas market Monday in Berlin, killing at least 12 people and injuring at least 50. German officials said it was too early to call the crash intentional. Odd Andersen, AFP