The Times-Tribune

IS claims market attack

Authoritie­s release suspect for lack of evidence

- BY DAVID RISING AND FRANK JORDANS

BERLIN — The Islamic State group claimed responsibi­lity Tuesday for a truck attack on a crowded Berlin Christmas market that German authoritie­s said came right out of the extremist group’s playbook, inflicting mass casualties on a soft target fraught with symbolic meaning.

The Monday night attack on the popular market by the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in the heart of former West Berlin left 12 dead and 48 injured — the first mass casualty attack by Islamic extremists carried out on German soil. German security forces were still hunting for the perpetrato­r after releasing a man from custody for lack of evidence.

The claim of responsibi­lity carried on the Islamic State group’s Amaq news agency described the man seen fleeing from the truck as “a soldier of the Islamic State” who “carried out the

attack in response to calls for targeting citizens of the Crusader coalition.”

Germany is not involved in anti-IS combat operations, but has 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, among other assets.

Suspect at large

The claim of responsibi­lity came not long after German prosecutor­s said they had released a man picked up near the scene of the attack, initially suspected of driving the truck.

The man, a Pakistani citizen who came to Germany last year, was taken into custody based on a descriptio­n from witnesses of a suspect who jumped out of the truck and fled after the attack.

Even before his release, officials had expressed doubt the man was behind the attack.

“We may still have a dangerous criminal out there,” warned Berlin police chief Klaus Kandt, whose office urged people to be “particular­ly vigilant” and report “suspicious movement” using a special hotline.

Though Germany had not seen any successful masscasual­ty Islamic extremist attacks until Monday, attempts and recent attacks in neighborin­g France and Belgium had made many feel it was inevitable.

“We’ve all been prepared that something like this could happen, so we were not surprised,” said economics student Maximilian Much.

The 24-year-old Berliner said the attack hit home because he’d often visited the Christmas market with his girlfriend, but that he wouldn’t let himself be led by emotion.

“I’m not going to change my lifestyle now,” he said. “The chances that I get killed in a car or bike accident are bigger.”

Germany’s top prosecutor, Peter Frank, told reporters the attack on the popular market was reminiscen­t of July’s deadly truck rampage in Nice and appeared to follow instructio­ns published by the Islamic State group.

“There is also the prominent and symbolic target of a Christmas market, and the modus operandi that mirrors at least past calls by jihadi terror organizati­ons,” Mr. Frank said.

‘No direct link’

In Washington, State Department spokesman John Kirby said the attack “bears the hallmarks of previous terror attacks,” but said U.S. officials didn’t have enough informatio­n to back up the IS claim of responsibi­lity. “There is no direct evidence of a tie or a link to a terrorist organizati­on,” he said.

The man arrested near the scene denied any involvemen­t in the attack. Under German law, prosecutor­s have until the end of a calendar day following an arrest to seek a formal arrest warrant keeping a suspect in custody.

Prosecutor­s said they decided to release him after turning up no forensic evidence proving he was in the truck’s cab during the rampage, and no witnesses who were able to follow him from the scene to where he was picked up.

Among the injured was Inaki Ellakuria, who underwent surgery Tuesday for a broken tibia and fibula on his left leg. He said he knew immediatel­y it was no accident.

“It came fast, too fast to be driving off the road accidental­ly,” the 21-year-old student from Spain tweeted only minutes after the attack. “It has swept me and ran over both of my legs.”

Juan Jose Ellakuria told the Associated Press his son also suffered broken bones in his right ankle and instep, as well as damage to his hip.

“He’s come out of surgery and he’s making good progress,” Mr. Ellakuria said.

Mr. Frank, the German prosecutor, said there were still a lot of unanswered questions.

“We don’t know for sure whether it was one or several perpetrato­rs,” he said. “We don’t know for sure whether he, or they, had support. These investigat­ions aren’t concluded yet.”

Witnesses saw only one man flee from the truck after it hurtled through the market for 200 to 260 feet before coming to a stop near the 19th-century church, which was badly damaged in World War II bombing but left standing as a memorial to the destructio­n of the war.

The head of the Federal Criminal Police Office said authoritie­s had yet to find a pistol that is believed to have been used to kill the Polish truck driver who was supposed to be delivering the steel beams the truck was carrying.

The Polish owner of the truck, Ariel Zurawski, said he last spoke with the driver, his cousin, around noon on Monday and he told him he was in Berlin and scheduled to unload Tuesday morning.

“They must have done something to my driver,” he told TVN24.

 ?? MARKUS SCHREIBER ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? Two women mourn in Berlin, Germany, on Tuesday, the day after a truck ran into a crowded Christmas market nearby and killed several people.
MARKUS SCHREIBER ASSOCIATED PRESS Two women mourn in Berlin, Germany, on Tuesday, the day after a truck ran into a crowded Christmas market nearby and killed several people.

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