12 die as truck ploughs into Berlin Christmas market

Berlin, Dec 20 (IANS) At least 12 persons died and 48 injured after a truck ploughed into a crowded Christmas market in the German capital city of Berlin on Monday night.

The speeding truck which Berlin police believe was stolen from a Polish construction company, drove into the busy market at Breitscheidplatz at around 8 p.m., BBC reported.

A suspect, reportedly an Afghan or Pakistani national who arrived in Germany in February, was arrested 2 km from the site and was being interrogated, The Guardian reported.

Police said a man found dead inside the truck, identified as a Polish citizen, was not the person who drove it into the market.

According to the Polish company that owns the truck, its driver was unreachable since Monday afternoon.

The incident was very similar to the July 14 Nice terror attack in France that left 86 dead and over 430 injured. The Islamic State militant group had claimed responsibility for the attack.

The IS earlier encouraged such attacks, saying, “Run him (IS enemies) over with your car”.

Nice Mayor Christian Estrosi tweeted: “Horror in Berlin. Support for… German people. Never again.”

The attack site is near a famous Berlin landmark — the Gedaechtniskirche, or memorial church, built in 1891-95. The market at Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church has existed for 33 years.

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said: “I don’t want to use the word ‘attack’ yet at the moment, although a lot speaks for it.”

But a statement from the White House said it “appears to have been a ‘terrorist’ attack”.

US President-elect Donald Trump on Monday night called it a “horrifying terror attack”, blaming “IS and other Islamist terrorists [who] continually slaughter Christians in their communities and places of worship”.

The US State Department had issued a warning in November for travellers in Europe of a heightened risk of terror attacks at Christmas-related events by the Islamist militants.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her grief for the victims while President Joachim Gauck said he was shocked by the “awful evening”.

An eyewitness said the market fell silent as the truck came to a halt. Jan Hollitzer, 36, heard screams as the vehicle made its way through the stalls, he said.

A local journalist said he saw destroyed stalls, broken glass, crockery and tables, and injured people lying on the ground.

“There were people under the truck and it was really scary, really terrifying.”

Emma Rushton told CNN that the truck did not slow down, and was travelling at about 40 mph through the crowded pedestrian area.

Facebook set up a “Safety Check” page for people in Berlin to let others know they are safe.

A series of small-scale terror attacks alarmed Germany earlier this year.

The European nation was hit by two terror attacks in July, the first carried out by an Afghan minor refugee on a commuter train in Wurzburg and the second by a Syrian asylum seeker in Ansbach, who died when he detonated a backpack with explosive devices.

The attacks have contributed to the continuing polarisation and controversy over Germany’s pro-refugee policy, as the country has opened its borders to about 1.3 million seekers since the beginning of 2015.

–IANS

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