A Polish-registered lorry crammed into a Christmas market in Berlin on Monday, killing 12 people and injuring nearly 50, it was reported. A suspect believed to be the driver at the time of the impact was arrested, Berlin police said.
A dead body, presumably the vehicle's legitimate driver, was found inside later into the night with a bullet in his head, despite which authorities were reluctant to rule the incident a terrorist attack, although evidence always pointed in that direction, according to a German top security official.
The crash came less than a month after the US State Department called for caution in markets and other public places across Europe, saying extremist groups including Islamic State and al-Qaida were focusing on the upcoming holiday season and associated events. The Islamic State group and al-Qaida have both called on followers to use trucks in particular to attack crowds. On July 14, a truck plowed into Bastille Day revelers in the southern French city of Nice, killing 86 people. Islamic State claimed responsibility for that attack, which was carried out by a Tunisian living in France.
Berlin police spokesman Winfried Wenzel said a suspect believed to be the driver was picked up about 2 kilometers away, near the Victory Column monument. He was being interrogated, Wenzel said.
The truck was registered in Poland, and police said it was believed to be stolen from a building site there. They didn't give a specific location.
The Polish owner of the truck said he feared the vehicle, driven by his cousin, may have been hijacked. Ariel Zurawski said he last spoke with the driver around noon, and the driver told him he was in Berlin and scheduled to unload Tuesday morning. They must have done something to my driver, he told a TV station.
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump blamed Islamist terrorists, though it was unclear what that assessment was based on. He said Islamic extremists must be eradicated from the face of the earth and pledged to carry out that mission with all freedom-loving partners. But German officials said it was too early to call the crash intentional.
I don't want to use the word 'attack' yet at the moment, although a lot speaks for it, Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere told ARD television. 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.
Marcus Pretzell, from the anti-migration Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, : When will the German state of law strike back? When will this cursed hypocrisy finally stop? These are [Chancellor Angela] Merkel's dead!
Germany has not experienced any mass-casualty attacks by Islamic extremists, but has been increasingly wary since two attacks by asylum-seekers in the summer that were claimed by the Islamic State group. Five people were wounded in an ax rampage on a train near Wuerzburg and 15 in a bombing outside a bar in Ansbach, both in the southern state of Bavaria. Both attackers were killed.
Those attacks, and two others unrelated to Islamic extremism in the same weeklong period, helped stoke tensions in Germany over the arrival last year of 890,000 migrants.