Ter­ror­ist at­tacks Christ­mas mar­ket

Stolen truck plows through Ber­lin crowd; Pak­istani refugee sus­pected

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY CARLO MUNOZ AND AN­GELA WA­TERS

BER­LIN | Bloody scenes of car­nage and may­hem once again played out on the streets of Western Europe, this time tar­get­ing hol­i­day rev­el­ers at­tend­ing one of Ger­many’s renowned Christ­mas mar­kets in the heart of Ber­lin.

Evok­ing im­ages from the deadly Bastille Day at­tack ear­lier this year in Nice, France, a stolen Sca­nia trailer truck bar­reled through the Bre­itschei­d­platz city square in the Ger­man cap­i­tal, mow­ing down dozens of civil­ians at­tend­ing the pop­u­lar hol­i­day mar­ket in an at­tack U.S. and Ger­man of­fi­cials both char­ac­ter­ized as an act of ter­ror­ism.

Ger­man au­thor­i­ties took the sus­pected driver into cus­tody shortly af­ter the ram­page came to an end near the land­mark Kaiser Wil­helm Church in cen­tral Ber­lin, but not be­fore, ac­cord­ing to Ber­lin po­lice, the driver had killed at least 12 peo­ple and in­jured 48 oth­ers.

Ger­man of­fi­cers also dis­cov­ered a Pol­ish cit­i­zen dead in­side the cabin of the truck, which had Pol­ish li­cense plates. It re­mains un­clear what, if any, role the Pol­ish per­son played in the at­tack. Ac­cord­ing to re­ports in sev­eral Ger­man me­dia out­lets, he may have been killed be­fore the hi­jacked 7-ton semi went bar­rel­ing through the mar­ket.

Ber­lin and Ger­man news­pa­pers re­ported that the ar­rested man was a refugee from the Mid­dle East who came to Ger­many ear­lier this year, although re­ports var­ied on whether he was Afghan or Pak­istani.

Tourist Oleg Butkovsky was on his way to the hol­i­day mar­ket in west Ber­lin just as the at­tack hap­pened.

“I come from Is­rael, and you al­ways hear about how dan­ger­ous it is there, but this is the first at­tack I’ve ever been near. It’s my first day in Ber­lin,” Mr. Butkovsky said.

The Christ­mas mar­ket at­tack, com­ing on a day when Rus­sia’s am­bas­sador to Turkey was as­sas­si­nated and gun­fire erupted at a Swiss mosque, was a stark re­minder of the threat of in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ism and the se­cu­rity chal­lenges await­ing Pres­i­dent-elect Trump when

he takes of­fice next month.

“We have been in touch with Ger­man of­fi­cials, and we stand ready to pro­vide as­sis­tance as they re­cover from and in­ves­ti­gate this hor­rific in­ci­dent,” said Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil spokesman Ned Price, not­ing the White House was treat­ing the in­ci­dent as a ter­ror­ist at­tack. “Ger­many is one of our clos­est part­ners and strong­est al­lies, and we stand to­gether with Ber­lin in the fight against all those who tar­get our way of life and threaten our so­ci­eties.”

Mr. Trump is­sued a far stronger state­ment, plac­ing the re­spon­si­bil­ity for the “hor­ri­fy­ing” at­tack squarely on Is­lamic ter­ror­ist groups.

“ISIS and other Is­lamic ter­ror­ists con­tin­u­ously slaugh­ter Chris­tians in their com­mu­ni­ties and places of wor­ship as part of their global ji­had,” Mr. Trump said in a state­ment, us­ing an acro­nym for the Is­lamic State. “These ter­ror­ists and their re­gional and world­wide net­works must be erad­i­cated from the face of the earth, a mis­sion we will carry out with all free­dom-loving part­ners.”

Sources within Ger­man in­tel­li­gence told CNN on Mon­day of­fi­cials in­ves­ti­gat­ing the Ber­lin at­tack were also char­ac­ter­iz­ing the in­ci­dent as an act of ter­ror­ism. Fed­eral prose­cu­tors who han­dle ter­ror­ism cases took over the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Ger­man Jus­tice Min­is­ter Heiko Maas told re­porters.

Merkel un­der pres­sure

A re­port in the Ger­man news­pa­per Die Welt ten­ta­tively iden­ti­fied the main sus­pect as a Pak­istani refugee who ar­rived in Ger­many in Fe­bru­ary — a deeply prob­lem­atic find­ing for Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel, who has al­ready paid a heavy po­lit­i­cal price for her ini­tial open-arms wel­come to Mid­dle East refugees in 2014 and 2015, a pol­icy she has since re­versed amid soar­ing se­cu­rity con­cerns here.

Al­ready, mem­bers of Ger­many’s surg­ing right-wing par­ties were blam­ing the govern­ment in part for cre­at­ing the en­vi­ron­ment that al­lowed the at­tack to take place.

Mar­cus Pret­zell, a prom­i­nent mem­ber of the anti-mi­gra­tion, far-right Al­ter­na­tive for Ger­many party, lashed out at Ms. Merkel’s govern­ment, say­ing on Twit­ter: “When will the Ger­man state of law strike back? When will this cursed hypocrisy fi­nally stop? These are Merkel’s dead!”

The Pol­ish owner of the truck said he feared the ve­hi­cle, driven by his cousin, may have been hi­jacked. Ariel Zu­rawki 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.

But the Is­lamic State did not of­fi­cially and im­me­di­ately claim re­spon­si­bil­ity for the Ber­lin at­tack, as the group did for sim­i­lar at­tacks in Nice in July or the Ohio State at­tack in Novem­ber.

Ab­dul Razak Ali Ar­tan, an Ohio State stu­dent, in­jured 11 peo­ple af­ter driv­ing his car into a clus­ter of stu­dents and pro­ceeded to stab oth­ers be­fore be­ing killed by cam­pus po­lice.

Us­ing cars and trucks as weapons to kill or maim as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble is the low-tech tech­nique now be­ing touted by both Is­lamic State and al Qaeda to their sym­pa­thiz­ers and would-be ter­ror­ists to carry out so-called “lone wolf” at­tacks in the U.S. and Europe. That was ap­par­ently the in­spi­ra­tion be­hind the Nice at­tack in July.

Of­fi­cials from the Iraqi Pop­u­lar Mo­bi­liza­tion Forces claim Is­lamic State has taken credit for the at­tack, cit­ing un­ver­i­fied posts on mes­sag­ing ac­counts on the group’s en­crypted “Tele­graph” mo­bile app tracked by Bagh­dad. But so­cial me­dia posts form the ter­ror group’s on­line pro­pa­ganda wing, known as Amaq News Agency, have yet to claim of­fi­cial credit.

The at­tack, the first mass ca­su­alty at­tack in Ger­many af­ter sim­i­lar events had struck France, Bel­gium and other Western Euro­pean coun­tries, has sent shock waves through the coun­try and the Euro­pean Union.

Emer­gency ve­hi­cles en­cir­cled the wooden booths of the Christ­mas mar­ket at the foot of the bombed-out Kaiser Wil­helm Me­mo­rial Church, left in ru­ins af­ter World War II. Peo­ple waited hours af­ter the in­ci­dent at po­lice bar­ri­cades for an­swers, while oth­ers at­tempted to lo­cate miss­ing loved ones or just try to get their cars. Some tourists with shop­ping bags con­tin­ued to ar­rive at the mar­ket be­fore learn­ing what hap­pened, turn­ing away shocked.

‘Mat­ter of time’

Wit­ness­ing the scene, lo­cal res­i­dent Bruno Jansen, 44, said it “was only a mat­ter of time be­fore some­thing like this hap­pened in Ber­lin.”

“I still feel safe in my city, but you have to be alert dur­ing these times,” he said.

Just hours be­fore, tourists had jammed the nar­row side streets and main pedes­trian square of Bre­itschei­d­platz, browsing hol­i­day stalls sell­ing ev­ery­thing from the Christ­mas sta­ple of “Le­bkuchen” gin­ger­bread cook­ies and mulled wine to hol­i­day or­na­ments and trin­kets, when the truck smashed into the crowd.

Christ­mas mar­kets are an iconic fea­ture of the hol­i­day sea­son in Ger­many and Aus­tria, draw­ing thou­sands of lo­cals and tourists in the run-up to Christ­mas Day.

Toumas Tam­mas, a 21-year old tourist from Fin­land, was at the mar­ket just be­fore the at­tack.

“I was vis­it­ing the Christ­mas mar­ket with my fa­ther an hour ago. We went for din­ner across the street when we heard scream­ing, then the sirens came,” Mr. Tam­mas told The Washington Times. “We still don’t quite know what hap­pened.”

Val Junga, 25, was pass­ing home on his way from the gym when he saw the scene, roads blocked and sirens and flash­ing lights at the square: “It’s so fright­en­ing to have this hap­pen in Ber­lin, es­pe­cially at this time of year,” he said.

The truck, which was loaded with steel beams, came to a halt on a side­walk on one side of the mar­ket, ac­cord­ing to The As­so­ci­ated Press. It had just rammed a large stand called “Fas­ci­na­tion Christ­mas,” tear­ing off one side and knock­ing down a large Christ­mas tree. Dozens of peo­ple were on the ground as po­lice ve­hi­cles be­gan to ar­rive shortly af­ter 9 p.m., wit­nesses said.

Some Ger­mans re­solved not to be changed by the ter­ror at­tack in the heart of their cap­i­tal. But oth­ers said changes were in­evitable.

Stephan Mayer, a mem­ber of the con­ser­va­tive Chris­tian So­cial Union in the Bun­destag, said that “with this sup­posed at­tack on the Christ­mas mar­ket in Ber­lin, our worst fears have come true. Now the safety de­sign of ev­ery Christ­mas mar­ket in Ger­many has to be ex­am­ined — even to the point where we ask our­selves whether they can even still take place.”

● Carlo Munoz re­ported from Washington. Staff writ­ers Dave Boyer and Vic­tor Mor­ton also con­trib­uted from Washington, and Austin Davis re­ported from Ber­lin. This ar­ti­cle was also based in part on wire ser­vice re­ports.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A dead per­son was found in­side the truck that rammed into a crowded Ber­lin mar­ket, but what con­nec­tion that per­son has to the truck’s driver has not been es­tab­lished.

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