Ger­mans shaken with un­cer­tainty of ter­ror­ism

Merkel pre­pares to take brunt of blame


BER­LIN | The day after a truck plowed into a shop­per-filled Christ­mas mar­ket, killing a dozen peo­ple and wound­ing dozens more, Ger­many con­tin­ued to grap­ple with the af­ter­math: the shock of the at­tack, iden­ti­fy­ing the vic­tims, track­ing sus­pected links to Is­lamic ter­ror­ist groups, and de­bat­ing whether the open-door asy­lum pol­icy of Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel shares some of the blame.

With in­ves­ti­ga­tors’ re­lease Tues­day of the prime ini­tial sus­pect in the ram­page, a young Pak­istani asy­lum-seek­ing refugee who ar­rived in the coun­try barely a year ear­lier, Ber­lin­ers were liv­ing with the ter­ri­fy­ing fear that the killer or killers were still at large, armed and ca­pa­ble of strik­ing again.

The po­lit­i­cal fall­out could fall most heav­ily on Ms. Merkel, who faced re­newed crit­i­cism for her lib­eral im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies even as she made an emo­tional visit with Ger­man Pres­i­dent Joachim Gauck to the site of the atroc­ity in the plaza in front of the his­toric Kaiser Wil­helm Memo­rial Church.

“Like mil­lions of peo­ple in Ger­many, I am hor­ri­fied, shaken and deeply sad­dened by what hap­pened last night in Ber­lin,” Ms. Merkel said. “Much of what we know about th­ese events is still un­cer­tain, but as things stand, we have to as­sume that this was an act of ter­ror­ism. I know that it would be es­pe­cially dif­fi­cult for us all if it turns out that the per­son who com­mit­ted this act had asked for pro­tec­tion and asy­lum in Ger­many.”

On Tues­day evening, Ger­man po­lice said they were still hunt­ing for the per­pe­tra­tor of the at­tack after re­leas­ing a 23-year-old Pak­istani iden­ti­fied only as Naved B., who was seen leav­ing the scene of the mas­sacre at Bre­itschei­d­platz in west Ber­lin be­fore be­ing ap­pre­hended a mile away Mon­day evening.

Eye­wit­nesses ini­tially no­ti­fied po­lice that they had seen a man match­ing Naved B.’s de­scrip­tion exit the truck after it plowed through pedes­tri­ans, killing 12 and in­jur­ing al­most 50 peo­ple en­joy­ing the shop­ping, snacks and fes­tiv­i­ties of a tra­di­tional Christ­mas mar­ket.

But after a DNA search, pros­e­cu­tors an­nounced that it didn’t ap­pear the “ac­cused was present in the cab of the truck dur­ing the event.”

With no other sus­pects in cus­tody, the per­pe­tra­tor of the likely ter­ror­ist at­tack is still at large, po­lice said, as they mounted a mas­sive man­hunt that in­cluded raid­ing the shel­ter where Naved B. lived a few miles away from the Christ­mas mar­ket.

Com­pli­cat­ing the pic­ture was an un­con­firmed re­port that the Is­lamic State group was claim­ing credit for the at­tack, which closely mir­rored a July 14 mas­sacre in Nice, France, by a rad­i­cal­ized Tu­nisian im­mi­grant.

The Is­lamic State group’s Amaq news agency said in a state­ment Tues­day that “the per­son who car­ried out the truck run over at­tack in Ber­lin is a sol­dier of the Is­lamic State and car­ried out the at­tack in re­sponse to calls for tar­get­ing cit­i­zens of the Cru­sader coali­tion,” The As­so­ci­ated Press re­ported.

Ger­many is not in­volved in com­bat op­er­a­tions against the Is­lamic State, but it does have Tor­nado jets and a re­fu­el­ing plane sta­tioned in Turkey in sup­port of the coali­tion fight­ing mil­i­tants in Syria, as well as a frigate pro­tect­ing a French air­craft car­rier in the Mediter­ranean.

Ger­man of­fi­cials said there was no way to de­ter­mine the truth of the Is­lamic State claim, and State Depart­ment spokesman John Kirby told re­porters that U.S. au­thor­i­ties had no more in­tel­li­gence in­for­ma­tion about the at­tacker’s mo­ti­va­tions than the Ger­mans.

“There is no di­rect ev­i­dence of a tie or a link to a ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion, but this bears the hall­marks of pre­vi­ous ter­ror at­tacks,” Mr. Kirby said.

Coun­tries across West­ern Europe re­ported tight­en­ing se­cu­rity pro­ce­dures in the wake of the event, es­pe­cially for large public events. Ms. Merkel has spo­ken to Pres­i­dent Obama and the lead­ers of France, Turkey, Italy, Greece, Poland, Swe­den and Spain since Mon­day evening, the Ger­man gov­ern­ment re­ported.

Politi­cians and Ber­lin­ers alike were anx­ious as au­thor­i­ties in­cre­men­tally re­leased de­tails of the at­tack. Still, po­lice con­firmed early Tues­day that the truck was owned and op­er­ated by a Pol­ish ship­ping com­pany and was head­ing back to Poland from Italy when it was hi­jacked.

The driver, a cousin of the com­pany’s man­ager, was sup­posed to stop in Ber­lin to un­load a ship­ment of steel beams be­fore head­ing back to Poland. The man­ager told Ger­man me­dia that the com­pany lost con­tact with the driver hours be­fore the truck reached the out­door Christ­mas mar­ket.

A dead pas­sen­ger was found in the de­mol­ished truck. Po­lice con­firmed early Tues­day that he had been shot in the head and that he had Pol­ish cit­i­zen­ship.

Those de­tails had some of­fi­cials res­o­lute that the dis­as­ter was ter­ror-re­lated, even be­fore Is­lamic State op­er­a­tives is­sued their claim of re­spon­si­bil­ity.

“We no longer have any doubts that last night’s hor­ri­ble events were an at­tack,” In­te­rior Min­is­ter Thomas de Maiziere said.

As a re­sult, the mas­sacre has com­pounded ris­ing fears in Ger­many about Mus­lim refugees after mass as­saults in Cologne last New Year’s Eve and ter­ror­ist at­tacks this sum­mer, as well as a thwarted at­tack this month on an­other Christ­mas mar­ket by a rad­i­cal­ized 12-year-old boy in Lud­wigshafen.

Merkel un­der fire

Chan­cel­lor Merkel, who plans to seek a fourth term in of­fice next fall, faces in­creased pres­sure from within her rul­ing Chris­tian Demo­cratic Party — many of whom op­posed her open-door pol­icy that al­lowed nearly 1 mil­lion refugees to en­ter Ger­many last year — as well as from the far right.

Klaus Bouil­lon, the CDU in­te­rior min­is­ter of the Ger­man state of Saar­land, took what ap­peared to be a thinly veiled shot at the chan­cel­lor in an in­ter­view Tues­day morn­ing with Ger­man broad­caster SR.

“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,” Mr. Bouil­lon said.

Ms. Merkel’s “per­cep­tion and rep­u­ta­tion have been greatly di­min­ished by the refugee cri­sis,” said Gero Neuge­bauer, a po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst in Ber­lin and for­mer pro­fes­sor at the Free Univer­sity of Ber­lin. “The anx­i­ety within Merkel’s CDU is re­lated to her fail­ure to back down from her refugee pol­icy.”

Ms. Merkel, who once por­trayed her­self as a bas­tion of lib­eral Euro­pean val­ues in a time of un­cer­tainty and re­ac­tion on the Con­ti­nent, has since back­tracked on the scope of her pol­icy, giv­ing into de­por­ta­tion schemes, im­ple­ment­ing a refugee ex­change pro­gram with Turkey and even re­cently back­ing a public ban on the wear­ing of the burqa. Still, she has re­mained res­o­lute in her mantra of pro­ceed­ing with the up­hill process of in­te­grat­ing new­com­ers into the fold.

This comes much to the dis­may of more con­ser­va­tive wings of her party, as well as her coali­tion part­ner, the Bavaria-based Chris­tian So­cial Union, that seek to im­ple­ment quo­tas on refugees, es­pe­cially in the wake of mul­ti­ple vi­o­lent crimes in Ger­many this year in which asy­lum seek­ers were in­volved.

At the same time, an­a­lysts say, that is open­ing the door for the far-right Al­ter­na­tive for Ger­many party, which this year has had a surge of sup­port and won seats in mul­ti­ple lo­cal elec­tions.

Frauke Petry, co-leader of the AfD, which has gained mo­men­tum over the past years by crit­i­ciz­ing Ms. Merkel’s refugee poli­cies, said Tues­day that “Ger­many is no longer safe.”

The car­nage was “not just an at­tack on our free­dom and on our way of life but also on our Chris­tian tra­di­tion,” the AfD leader said.

More politi­cians likely will be rush­ing to take ad­van­tage of the sit­u­a­tion.

“The usual sus­pects, even those firmly within the demo­cratic spec­trum, are say­ing, ‘I told you so,’” said Olaf Boehnke, an an­a­lyst with the Al­fred Von Op­pen­heim Cen­ter for Euro­pean Pol­icy Stud­ies in Ber­lin. “There are a lot of po­lit­i­cal forces try­ing to cash in on this.

“This is a turn­ing point in Ger­man so­ci­ety: We’re re­al­iz­ing that our cozy ex­is­tence is over,” he said. “We know now that we have en­e­mies and we have to face them.”

The Mus­lim Co­or­di­na­tion Coun­cil, an um­brella group for Ger­many’s Mus­lim com­mu­nity, said in a state­ment Tues­day that ter­ror­ism “does not stop in the face of in­no­cent peo­ple and what is sa­cred to peo­ple.” The group said it was “deeply shocked and con­demn[ed] the cow­ardly at­tack in the strong­est terms.”

Mean­while, Ber­lin­ers were shocked, even though some said they had been brac­ing for such an at­tack after those in south­ern Ger­many this year as well as in neigh­bor­ing France.

“I can’t shake my­self of the feel­ing that we’re fac­ing dan­ger­ous times,” said Martin, 36, a post­doc­tor­ate can­di­date based in Ber­lin who de­clined to give his last name. “Fear and pow­er­less­ness are tak­ing hold of peo­ple’s hearts, but it’s im­por­tant to re­mind our­selves to stand up for the lib­eral demo­cratic val­ues we cher­ish in this so­ci­ety.”

Mourn­ers left flow­ers at im­promptu memo­ri­als that sprung up on the perime­ter of the mar­ket. Oth­ers at­tended a can­dle­light vigil in front of the Kaiser Wil­helm Memo­rial Church at mid­day to pray and pay their re­spects to the vic­tims. The city ob­served a mo­ment of si­lence later Tues­day. Christ­mas mar­kets across town, a Ger­man hol­i­day tra­di­tion and a ma­jor draw for lo­cal res­i­dents and tourists alike, closed in the early af­ter­noon to honor the vic­tims.

Still, some said they would try to go about their lives even if they feared more at­tacks to come.

“It feels like Ger­many is in the eye of the storm,” said Niko­leta Stavroulaki, 31, a per­sonal as­sis­tant who is trav­el­ing to Munich for the hol­i­days. “I’m afraid they’ll at­tack again on Christ­mas. … There’s no way I’m go­ing to go to the big Munich Mall.”

Still, she said, “Th­ese things may hap­pen, but I also have shop­ping to do, so I as­sume I’ll go.”


Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel signed the con­do­lence book at the Memo­rial Church in Ber­lin on Tues­day, one day after a truck ran into a crowded Christ­mas mar­ket and killed 12 peo­ple. The ter­ror­ist is feared to re­main at large.

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