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Berlin Police Call Christmas Market Deaths Probable 'Terrorist Attack'

  • RFE/RL

Berlin police say a truck plowed into a crowded Christmas market in Berlin while people were celebrating the holidays on the evening of December 19, killing at least 12 people and injuring dozens in a probable "terrorist attack."

The attack took place at one of Berlin's most-popular meeting and shopping places near the landmark Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in a western district of the German capital.

German officials said the truck drove deliberately into the crowd and likely was a "terrorist attack." Police arrested a man near the market who they said was the truck's driver.

Citing a German security source, Reuters reported the man is a 23-year-old migrant from Pakistan who was living in a hostel for refugees in Berlin.

A second man in the truck's passenger seat, who police said was Polish, died at the scene despite efforts by medics to save him. Police said the Polish man was not in control of the truck when it drove 80 meters into a crowd of people.

The news agency dpa reported that the detained man came to Germany within the last year.

Polish broadcaster TVN 24 reported that the truck used in the suspected attack belonged to a Polish trucking company.

The company's owner, Ariel Zurawski, told news media that the truck driver, his cousin, had been transporting steel to Berlin and was now missing after not answering telephone calls since the afternoon before the attack.

German police said they are working on the assumption that the truck was stolen.

A firefighter stands beside the truck that plowed into a crowded Christmas market in Berlin, killing at least 12.
A firefighter stands beside the truck that plowed into a crowded Christmas market in Berlin, killing at least 12.

The incident prompted France, which experienced a similar truck attack by an Islamic State sympathizer in July that killed 86 holiday celebrants, to heighten security at Christmas markets across the country.

The White House condemned "what appears to have been a terrorist attack" and said the "horrific incident" appeared to "target our way of life."

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump blamed an "Islamist terrorist" without citing evidence, saying that the Islamic State and "other Islamist terrorists continually slaughter Christians in their communities and places of worship as part of their global jihad."

"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," he said.

If established as a terrorist attack, the incident will come less than six months after the Bastille Day attack in France and two other attacks in Germany inspired by the Islamic State.

WATCH: Footage from the scene of the attack

In July, a 17-year-old claiming to be an Afghan asylum seeker attacked passengers on a Bavarian commuter train with an ax and a knife. A week later, a 27-year-old Syrian asylum seeker blew himself up outside a music venue in the Bavarian town of Ansbach, injuring more than a dozen people.

A 12-year-old boy with dual German-Iraqi citizenship also allegedly attempted to explode a nail bomb at a Christmas market in the western German city of Ludwighafen a few weeks ago.

Christmas markets have a long history in Germany stretching back to the Middle Ages. However, more recently they have grown dramatically to become popular places to socialize -- to drink mulled wine and to eat snacks in the weeks running up to Christmas.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, dpa, and AFP
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