UPDATED, 12:08 PM: The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for Monday’s truck attack on a Christmas market in Berlin, saying the driver was a “soldier” of ISIS. German authorities have not commented in the claim, which thus far is unsubstantiated. Meanwhile, the only suspect, a 23-year-old Pakistani who was seeking asylum in Germany, has been released for lack of evidence against him. Local police said they have no DNA evidence or witness accounts linking the man directly to the truck.
PREVIOUSLY, December 19: The White House said today that a tractor-trailer speeding into a crowd at a Christmas market in Berlin “appears to have been a terrorist attack.” Twelve people were killed and nearly 50 injured, and U.S. cable news networks rushed to cover the story during a busy news day.
A Berlin police spokesman said a suspect who matched the description of the truck driver was arrested a couple of hundreds yards from the scene, but they remain unsure about his involvement. The spokesman added that another person was found dead in the passenger seat in the 18-wheeler but did not offer specifics. Witnesses said the truck, which was registered in Poland and loaded with metal beams, was going about 40 mph when it slammed into the crowd.
The incident happened just before 8 PM local time outside of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, one of the most popular tourist sites in the German capital. It was similar to the July truck attack that killed 86 people and injured hundreds after at a Bastille Day fireworks display in the French Riviera city of Nice, just east of Cannes.
“The United States condemns in the strongest terms what appears to have been a terrorist attack on a Christmas Market in Berlin, Germany, which has killed and wounded dozens,” a National Security Council spokesman said this afternoon. “We send our thoughts and prayers to the families and loved ones of those killed, just as we wish a speedy recovery to all of those wounded. We also extend our heartfelt condolences to the people and Government of Germany. We have been in touch with German officials, and we stand ready to provide assistance as they recover from and investigate this horrific incident. Germany is one of our closest partners and strongest allies, and we stand together with Berlin in the fight against all those who target our way of life and threaten our societies.”
Fearing a terrorist attack, the European nation has been on a heightened state of alert for the past couple of years. There have been numerous raids across Germany in recent months, and just two days ago police arrested a 12-year-old boy who had explosives and allegedly was planning to target a Christmas market. Local authorities said the boy twice failed to denote explosives in the southern city of Ludwigshafen.