German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was “horrified, shocked and saddened” on Tuesday about a truck attack that killed at least a dozen people at a Berlin Christmas market.
“I want you to know that all of us, a whole country, is joined with you in mourning and sadness,” Merkel told reporters in the German capital.
She promised that those responsible for the attack would be punished “with the full strength of our law.”
A ‘deliberate’ act
Investigators in the German capital, Berlin, are assuming that a truck that plowed into a Christmas market “was deliberately steered into the crowd.” Authorities announced the latest development on Twitter early Tuesday morning, calling the incident a “probable terrorist attack.”
The truck slammed into a crowded Christmas market in central Berlin on Monday night, killing at least 12 people and wounding 48, in what authorities are investigating as a possible terrorist attack.
The suspected driver was detained near the scene while a passenger was found dead in the truck. The dead passenger has been identified by police as a Polish national, but authorities have not officially commented on the nationality of the suspected driver.
The suspect is believed to be a 23-year-old Pakistani citizen who arrived in Germany a year ago, German media reported citing unnamed security sources.
German special forces stormed a hangar at Berlin’s Tempelhof airport where the city’s largest refugee shelter is located, reported German newspaper “Die Welt.” The suspect was allegedly registered at the refugee centre there, the paper said.
The Interior Ministry said Germany’s Christmas markets and other large events will continue to take place but with “adjusted” security measures – although Berlin’s markets will remain closed on Tuesday out of respect for the victims.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is due to speak later Tuesday morning while the Berlin police will hold a press conference in the afternoon.
‘Probable terrorist attack’
In another Tweet on Tuesday morning, Berlin police said: “All police measures concerning the probable terror attack at Breitscheidplatz are being taken with great speed and the necessary care,” police said.
German authorities have been hesitant to label the truck crash as an attack, but de Maiziere said signs pointed to everyone’s worst fears.
“I don’t want to use the word ‘attack’ yet at the moment, although a lot points to it,” de Maiziere told German public broadcaster ARD.
“There is a psychological effect in the whole country of the choice of words here, and we want to be very, very cautious and operate close to the actual investigation results, not with speculation.”
Earlier, Justice Minister Heiko Maas said the case had been handed over to federal prosecutors who handle terrorism cases.
The Scania-brand truck rammed up to 80 meters (260 feet) into the Christmas market near the iconic Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church at around 8:30 p.m. local time as locals and tourists gathered to enjoy the evening. Located along the Kurfürstendamm shopping mile, it is one of the most popular and well-attended out of Berlin’s 50 holiday markets.
The truck had Polish license plates and was carrying steel beams. Earlier, the owner of the truck said he feared the vehicle may have been hijacked.
Authorities in Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Belgium and the Netherlands said they are now reviewing and heightening security measures at Christmas markets and other holiday events.
The likely attack, one of the biggest to hit Germany in more than a decade, comes as Europe is on high alert following a string of terrorist attacks in France and Belgium over the past year. Although no group has claimed responsibility for the incident in Berlin, the so-called “Islamic State” (IS) has previously called on its followers to carry out terror strikes in Europe.