Wednesday Dec 21, 2016

Pakistani suspect released, Daesh claims responsiblity of Berlin truck attack


BERLIN: Militant group Daesh has claimed responsibility of a terrorist attack on a Berlin Christmas market, which left 12 people dead and 48 injured.

The militant group announced the claim through its news agency, Amaq. 

Earlier Berlin police released a Pakistani asylum seeker suspected of being the man behind the wheels of the truck.

"The accused, detained over the attack on the Berlin Christmas market on December 19, 2016, was let go on this evening on the orders of the federal prosecutor," his office said in a statement. Authorities identified the man earlier as a Pakistani asylum seeker.

"The forensic tests carried out so far did not provide evidence of the accused´s presence during the crimes in the cab of the lorry."

Twelve people were killed when the truck tore through the crowd Monday, smashing wooden stalls and crushing victims, in scenes reminiscent of July's deadly attack in the French Riviera city of Nice. Another 48 people were injured, 24 of whom were released from hospital by late Tuesday. 

The mangled truck came to a halt with its windscreen smashed, a trail of destruction and screaming victims in its wake, with Christmas trees toppled on their side.

Earlier, German media quoting police sources claimed that the Pakistani asylum seeker arrested in connection with the attack is not the real perpetrator. 

German newspaper Die Welt quoted a senior police source as saying that officers have the "wrong man".

"We have the wrong man. And thus a new situation. For the real culprit is still armed at large and can cause new damage," the source told the newspaper.

The Pakistani man was arrested about 2 kilometres (1 miles) from the crash site on suspicion of having been at the wheel of the truck that plowed into a crowd at a Berlin Christmas market on Monday evening, killing 12 people and injuring 48.

The suspect had denied involvement in the attack.

Berlin's police chief had also voiced doubts that the detained Pakistani was behind the attack. "It is indeed uncertain he was the driver," Klaus Kandt told a press conference. "The initial evidence has been limited", he said, while police tweeted that "we remain especially vigilant".

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere had earlier claimed that the suspect arrested in connection with the Christmas market truck attack was a Pakistani and had arrived in Germany on December 31, 2015 seeking asylum. German newspapers identified the arrested man as 23-year-old Naved B who was born in Pakistan in 1993.  

During a news conference, the interior minister said the arrested Pakistani man's asylum application had not been completed and he was not in any database on terror suspects. "He denies the act," de Maiziere told journalists. 

The German minister Thomas de Maiziere said: "We have no doubt that this terrible event was an attack."

Earlier, Pakistan's Ambassador to Germany Jauhar Saleem said local authorities had not contacted the embassy over the involvement of a Pakistani.

Speaking exclusively to Geo News, Ambassador Saleem said further information would be provided when contacted by German officials and that information will determine if the driver was Pakistani.

The ambassador added no Pakistani had been killed in the Berlin incident.

The truck crashed into people gathered on Monday evening around wooden huts serving mulled wine and sausages at the foot of the Kaiser Wilhelm memorial church — left as a ruin after World War Two — in the heart of former West Berlin.

"Our investigators are working on the assumption that the truck was deliberately steered into the crowd at the Christmas market...," police said on Twitter.

"All police measures related to the suspected terrorist attack at Breitscheidplatz are progressing at full steam and with the necessary diligence."

On Tuesday morning the black truck was still visible at the site of the incident and a few candles and roses had been laid by the entrance to a nearby station. Flowers were being laid in the center of the nearby Kurfuerstendamm, a prestigious shopping street. One woman was crying as she stopped by the flowers.

Rescue workers tow the truck which ploughed into a crowded Christmas market in Berlin - Reuters
Rescue workers tow the truck which ploughed into a crowded Christmas market in Berlin - Reuters

Raid on refugee center

German newspaper Die Welt said police special forces stormed a hangar at Berlin's defunct Tempelhof airport housing a refugee accommodation center at around 4 AM. (0300 GMT). It said, without citing its sources, that the arrested man was registered there.

A refugee there who gave his name only as Ahmed told Reuters security guards had told him there was a raid at around 4 a.m.

Prosecutors declined to immediately comment on the report.

If a migrant link is confirmed, it could further sour sentiment toward asylum seekers in Germany, where more than a million people fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere have arrived this year and last.

The record influx has hit Chancellor Angela Merkel's popularity ratings and boosted support for the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD). Senior AfD member Marcus Pretzell blamed Merkel for the attack on Twitter.

Manfred Weber, head of the center-right European People's Party, said: "It's not an attack on a country; it's an attack on our way of life, on the free society in which we are allowed to live."

Stephan Mayer, a senior member of the Christian Social Union - the Bavarian sister party to Merkel's Christian Democrats, told broadcaster ZDF it was necessary to ensure that there were no copycat attacks.

Austrian Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka said on ORF radio on Tuesday that he had told the heads of Austria's regional police forces to intensify surveillance measures, although there was no concrete evidence that an incident was about to happen.

Sobotka also called for biometric and fingerprint checks to be introduced along the Balkan route to better control foreign jihadist fighters' movements.

Berlin police are investigating leads that the truck had been stolen from a construction site in Poland. They have taken the truck for a forensic examination.

Flags will be hung at half-mast around Germany on Tuesday.

US offers help

President Barack Obama has called German Chancellor Angela Merkel to offer assistance and condolences following the attack.

"The President offered his condolences, and those of the American people, for the horrific apparent terrorist attack," the White House said following the call late Monday.

"The President reiterated the US offer of assistance and underscored that no attack could sway our determination -- and that of our German allies -- to defeat terrorism in all of its forms."

UN Security Council condemns attack

The UN Security Council strongly condemned the "barbaric and cowardly terrorist attack".

In a unanimous statement, the council offered condolences and said the perpetrators must be brought to justice.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also condemned the rampage by a truck driver on the market as a "terrorist attack."

He "hopes anyone involved in the commission of this appalling crime will be swiftly brought to justice," said a statement from his spokesman.

Additional reporting from Reuters