Berlin Christmas market attack: prosecutors assume armed person still at large
16:09 ThyssenKrupp has confirmed that the driver of the lorry arrived at the manufacturing company’s Berlin warehouse on Monday – either in the morning or midday – in an attempt to make an early delivery of the steel beams. The beams were supposed to be delivered on Tuesday morning.
The company said it told the driver that it could not unload his lorry at that time, however, and told the driver he ought to return on the next day at the scheduled drop-off time.
ThyssenKrupp said it did not know where the lorry driver went next, but his cousin told reporters that he had parked in a nearby neighbourhood that the driver called “strange” and then went to get a kebab sandwich.
15:51 Two British witnesses have been speaking to the BBC about trying to help the victims following the attack:
Sarah Dobler described how she held the hand of one of the victims as he lay in the street while her boyfriend tried to help victims, before realising they were already dead. Dobler told BBC Radio 5 Live that she had held the male’s hand until a member of the emergency services had arrived. “My boyfriend was trying to help people that unfortunately had already passed but he was, I’m not sure what nationality he was, I couldn’t understand what he was saying,” she said. “He was on the floor, sorry to be graphic, but he was lying there, he was trying to get up but his head injury was quite severe. So I just held his hand and told him everything was going to be okay.”
She described the destruction of the scene as “like something from a horror film”.
15:07 German police believe those responsible for a deadly attack on a Berlin Christmas market could still be at large after admitting they could have arrested the wrong man. Holger Münch, the head of the federal criminal police, said: “We need to work on the assumption that an armed perpetrator is still on the loose. As a result of this we are on high alert.”
The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has visited the scene of what she said was an assumed terrorist attack. “It would be particularly hard to bear for all of us if it was confirmed that a person committed this crime who asked for protection and asylum in Germany,” she said.
But Münch admitted there was still a “question mark” over whether the attacker was an Islamist. The chief prosecutor, Peter Frank, said that investigators were assuming that it could have been a terrorist because of the number of people killed and similarities with the attack in Nice in July. But he stressed that nothing was proven
Twelve people were killed in the incident on Monday, including six who have been identified as German. A further 48 people were wounded including 18 described as having very serious injuries.
Police said a man found dead inside the truck, identified as a Polish citizen, was not the person who drove it into the market. He was stabbed and shot but the weapons have not been found.
A Pakistani man arrested 2km from the scene has denied involvement. “At the moment it is unclear if he really was the driver,” said the chief of Berlin’s police, Klaus Kandt.
Early on Tuesday, police reportedly raided a hangar at the disused Tempelhof airport in Berlin, part of which is being used to house refugees.
Berlin police said they were investigating if the truck was stolen from a construction site in Poland. The Polish company that owns the truck said its 37-year-old driver, who was transporting steel beams, had been due to take a break in Berlin but had not been heard from since Monday afternoon.
The White House condemned what it said “appears to have been a terrorist attack”. The president-elect, Donald Trump, called it a “horrifying terror attack”, blaming “Isis and other Islamist terrorists [who] continually slaughter Christians in their communities and places of worship”.
Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, said the attack was “savage in its cynicism”.
The rightwing populist party Alternative for Germany claimed the country’s Christian tradition was under attack. Frauke Petry, its chair, said: “The Christmas market was not an accidental target. It is not only an attack on our freedom and our way of life, but on our Christian tradition. Germany is a country which is divided over the immigration question.”
Ukip’s former leader Nigel Farage said “events like these will be the Merkel legacy”.
The Metropolitan police service in London is reviewing security at Christmas events in light of the attack.
14:42 Holger Münch, the head of the federal crime office, laid out more police doubts during the press conference. He said: “Currently we have one suspect but we are not sure whether he is the perpetrator and we don’t know whether there is only one. We have not found the weapon and that leads us to being in a high state of alert. Our investigations are ongoing to see whether there are other perpetrators that we need to arrest.”
The chief prosecutor, Peter Frank, admitted that the apparent terrorist motive was still just an assumption. He said this was an assumption based on the “modus operandi, the similarities with the attack in Nice, and the number of dead”.
14:38 Michael Behrendt, a reporter with Die Welt, who first reported police doubts that they had the perpetrator, said investigators were “absolutely at a loss”, writes Kate Connolly.
“The police have no idea who they’re looking for,” he said. The relief that they had apparently arrested the perpetrator so soon after the attack has given way to a sense of helplessness, he said, comparing the search for the apparently armed attacker to “looking for a needle in a haystack”.
“They have no weapon, no DNA traces,” he said.
CCTV footage filmed around Breitscheidplatz was being analysed in the hope it would yield information that might help to identify a suspect. “Until they have any concrete information, it’s still completely unclear what they’re dealing with,” he said.
14:24 After laying white roses at the scene of the attack in front of the memorial church, Merkel held a lengthy discussion with Berlin police chiefs, writes Kate Connolly.
She slowly walked through the scene of the carnage, talking to her ministers and accompanied by many security guards. She then entered the church – a Berlin symbol of peace, after it was seriously damaged in the second world war – where she was due to sign condolence books that Berliners have been queuing up to add their names to.
The stillness of the market is striking. Normally at this time of the day it would be full of life and kitschy music. Instead, the wooden stalls not destroyed in the attack are closed up.
The church’s marine blue stained glass windows were lit up with candlelight.
Angela Merkel and Berlin’s mayor Michael Müller visit the scene. Photograph: John Macdougall/AFP/Getty Images
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14:20 Here’s an image of Merkel visiting the scene flanked by her most senior colleagues and the mayor of Berlin.
From left, Berlin mayor Michael Müller, German chancellor Angela Merkel, interior minister Thomas de Maizière and foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Photograph: Michael Sohn/AP
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14:06 Back at the prosecutors press conference, Münch says: “We need to work on the assumption that an armed perpetrator is still on the loose. As a result of this we are on high alert.”
14:02 Angela Merkel is visiting the scene of the lorry attack. She is flanked by Berlin’s mayor, Michael Müller, the interior minister Thomas De Maizière, and the foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier. The chancellor lays flowers at the scene.
Merkel is looking at letters, notes, and candles left by mourners – one sign reads: “Why?” while another says: “The heart of Berlin has been hit.” All the politicians are dressed in black.
Close by, a plastic sheet marks the place the lorry crashed into the market.
13:57 Six Germans have been identified among the dead, according to Münch.
13:55 Q: When did the Polish owner of the lorry report to police that his vehicle was missing?
Kandt says the first time they knew about the existence of the lorry was after the attack had taken place. He said the fact the owner had no GPS contact to the lorry was unusual, and therefore it was not to be expected that he would have necessarily contacted the police.
13:54 Münch, one of the police chiefs, said if no video appears with a claim of responsibility for the attack, it could heighten suspicions that the attacker was a lone wolf.
13:53 Questions are being asked as to why US authorities had apparently warned their own citizens to avoid Christmas markets in Germany, back in November, but German authorities did not issue such warnings.
Another question being asked: why were no stone bollards erected at the market?
Kandt, the Berlin police president, says even if we had put bollards up it would not have prevented the attack. He said there were “so many potential targets” – with 2,500 Christmas markets in Germany, 60 of them in Berlin.
13:50 Holger Münch, the head of the federal criminal police office, says there is a “question mark” over whether the attacker was an Islamists.
Frank said the authorities should know by this evening whether they arrested the right man. He said it was still not clear whether it was a terrorist attack. He said prosecutors were working on the assumption that it could have been a terrorist act based on the method of the attack. But he stressed that nothing was proven.
13:45 Berlin’s police chief, Klaus Kandt, is defending the lack of concrete barriers at the Christmas market. He says the risk of terrorist attacks cannot be reduced to zero.
13:43 Germany’s top federal prosecutor, Peter Frank, has repeated doubts about whether the arrested suspect was behind the attack.
“We have to get used to the idea that he may not have carried out the attack,” he told a press conference in Berlin.
source: The Guardian