Berlin attack carried out by “soldier of the Islamic State”

Police guard a Christmas market after a truck ran into the crowded Christmas market in Berlin, Germany, Monday, Dec. 19, 2016. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

[Breaking news alert, posted at 3:05 p.m. ET Tuesday]

The ISIS-affiiliated Amaq media outlet, citing a security source, has released a statement saying the Berlin attack was carried out by a “soldier of the Islamic State” in response to the group’s calls for attacks on the citizens of international coalition countries. The statement was posted online on Tuesday. “The group has frequently used this terminology to refer to attacks by alleged sympathizers in the West. This should not be taken to mean the group is claiming it directed this attack. Investigators have not uncovered any links to ISIS,” CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank said.

[Breaking news update, posted at 1:24 p.m. ET Tuesday]

The man detained after a truck crashed into a Berlin Christmas market has been set free, Germany’s general prosecutor said in a statement Tuesday. “The investigations thus far have not produced sufficient evidence against the suspect,” the statement said.
[Previous story, posted at 12:54 p.m. ET Tuesday]
Police say the man they detained after a truck plowed into a Berlin Christmas market may not have been the driver, leading to fears that the attacker could still be on the loose.
“They’re really back to square one in terms of this investigation. … It may well be a scenario of a manhunt, a race against time to arrest this individual before they can strike again,” CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank said.
German authorities had earlier described an asylum-seeker as a suspect in the Monday evening attack, which they’re investigating as an act of terror. But now, a key question in the investigation apparently remains unanswered: Who was behind the attack that left 12 people dead and 48 others injured?
So far, no group has claimed responsibility.

Latest developments

  • Police are investigating the incident as a likely terrorist attack
  • Case has been handed to German federal police and public prosecutor
  • Man believed to be truck’s driver treated as a suspect
  • A second man found dead in truck was Polish, not at wheel when crash occurred
  • At least 48 people hospitalized when the truck hit the crowd
  • Victims yet to be formally identified, no names released
The attack “does not only hit Berlin right into its heart, it hits all of us,” Germany’s Justice Ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.
German Cancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert tweeted: “We are mourning the dead and hope that there is help for the many wounded.”

Driven from Poland

The truck that devastated the Breitscheidplatz market is owned by a Polish company and appears to have been driven across the border for the attack.
Ariel Zurawski, owner of the truck company, said it may have been hijacked as his cousin — the truck’s regular driver — couldn’t have been behind the wheel. It was being used to transport steel.
“My scenario is that they did something to him and hijacked this truck,” Zurawski told CNN affiliate TVN 24. He said that his cousin’s wife had attempted to phone him multiple times but was unable to get through.
The German capital is around a 90 minute drive from the Polish border.
Berlin police said a man found dead in the truck following the accident was a Polish citizen. He was not at the wheel during the incident.
Police said another man, apparently the driver, was picked up just over a mile from the scene and is being treated as a suspect.

‘It felt like slow motion’

At Breitscheidplatz on Monday evening it was a quintessential German Christmas scene: Trees strung with lights, vendors serving candied fruit and waffles, the smell of gluhwein — German mulled wine — wafting through the cold December air.
Shoppers were milling around buying snacks and gifts in the final days before the holiday at the colorful market, set up at the foot of an old church.
American Shandana Durrani was at the market and had stopped to reply to a text message when the truck rammed into the crowd at around 8 pm.
She was lucky to have stopped, she said, as the truck mounted the curb, mowing people and stalls down just 20 feet in front of her, sending the crowd “running, scurrying, screaming.”
“I heard some popping and thought maybe there was a guy with a gun,” she told CNN.
“People just started running and dropping their gluhwein.”
She said that the it looked as if the driver had just mounted the curb and lost control, and that the whole thing probably lasted a mere 10 seconds.
“It probably didn’t last very long, but it felt like it was in slow motion (as I ) tried to get away from it.”

Security concerns

With German officials and the White House suggesting the crash may have been an act of terror, comparisons have been drawn with the attack in Nice, France in July.
In that incident, a truck rammed into a crowd gathered to see Bastille Day fireworks, killing 86 and injuring more than 200 people.
Terror groups including ISIS and a branch of Al Qaeda have encouraged their followers to use vehicles to stage attacks.
Prior to Monday’s attack, both the US and UK governments had warned their citizens of potential security threats in Germany.
“There is a high threat from terrorism,” according to UK foreign travel advice. “Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in public places visited by foreigners.”
The US had issued a blanket travel warning for Europe, saying there was “credible information (which) indicates terrorist groups continue plotting possible attacks.”
German officials had also expressed concerns over security for Christmas markets, which are often frequented by large crowds.

Political repercussions

German police have declined to confirm to CNN the driver’s motivations or his background. However, this has not stopped some attributing blame.
US President-elect Donald Trump quickly linked the incident to “ISIS and other Islamist terrorists” and “global jihad.”
If confirmed as a terrorist attack, Monday’s incident could cause further political upheaval for Chancellor Merkel, who has come
under criticism over her government’s generous acceptance of refugees. Germany has taken in more than 890,000 asylum seekers in the past year, a marked difference to other European nations.
“For Chancellor Merkel (Monday’s attack) is an absolute nightmare,” Dominic Thomas, professor of French at UCLA, told CNN.
“It feeds into the discourse of (far-right party) Alternative fur Deutschland, which has been trying to shape the conversation precisely around these types of events.”
David Andelman, author of “A Shattered Peace: Versailles 1919 and the Price We Pay Today”, said that many Europeans are coming to fear that traditional democratic values are only giving aid and comfort to terrorists, leading to a swell in support for more authoritarian politics.
“Across Europe, right-wing candidates are positioning themselves against immigration and Islam, defending an ever-tougher stance with every new terrorist assault,” he said.